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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Student graduates with first American Sign Language bachelor’s at Wichita State

Madison+%28Maddie%29+Fields%2C+a+fall+2023+graduate%2C+waits+to+have+her+picture+taken+before+walking+across+the+stage+in+Charles+Koch+Arena.+Fields+was+the+first+student+at+Wichita+State+University+to+graduate+with+a+bachelors+degree+in+American+Sign+Language.
Mia Hennen
Madison (Maddie) Fields, a fall 2023 graduate, waits to have her picture taken before walking across the stage in Charles Koch Arena. Fields was the first student at Wichita State University to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language.

When news first broke about Wichita State offering a bachelor’s in American Sign Language a year ago, Madison Fields and deaf studies instructor Lorita Slieter had no idea.

“We hadn’t heard about it,” Fields said. “We were like, ‘What?’”

At the time, Fields was majoring in sociology and minoring in ASL. She said the news about the new major coming to Wichita State in the fall of 2023 motivated her to reach out to her advisers to see if she could turn the credits from her minor into a complete bachelor’s degree.

“(The advisers) created the paper for me with the requirements, just so I could have it,” Fields said. “I looked at it, and basically, it was five more classes.”

Initially planning to graduate in the spring of 2023, Fields postponed her graduation until last semester.

Fields had no prior experience in ASL before entering college. She started taking ASL courses in the fall of 2020 after learning that these could fulfill the foreign language requirements necessary for her liberal arts degree. 

“People ask me often like, ‘Oh, did you know growing up, and then you took it formally?’ No,” Fields said. “I didn’t know anything.”

Fields has also assisted and helped teach ASL classes alongside deaf studies faculty.

Magaly Benítez Castillo, a biological science student pursuing a minor in ASL, frequently spoke to Fields in the classroom as well as outside for tutoring help.

“She’s the most accessible tutor you’ll ever have,” Benítez Castillo said. “It was really fun … to see her finally decide to do (the ASL major), and now that she’s done, it’s really cool to see.”

The semesters leading up to her delayed graduation had their difficulties, though. Fields said that three of the five classes she needed to take to complete her degree hadn’t been established yet.

“They didn’t exist, and there was no teachers,” Fields said. “And I know that they’re very busy and everything, but I wanted a little bit more fire (with the new degree).”

Fields took matters into her own hands, asking two instructors to essentially teach independent studies in place of the three courses. 

“I was glad I found somebody to teach them as well, so I could get them out of the way,” she said.

Madison (Maddie) Fields’ graduation cap. Fields was the first student at Wichita State University to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language. (Mia Hennen)

Having just walked across the stage last month, the graduate now holds a double major in sociology and ASL. Fields said she could see herself taking various paths post-graduation, some options being teaching, community interpreting, pursuing a master’s degree, and more.

For now, though, the grad will work under the agency Sign Language Interpreting Services, Inc.

The WSU alum said that while she was able to obtain her ASL degree despite the obstacles, she hopes to see improvements as more continue their journey in the major. As of last fall, just over a dozen students have declared an ASL major.

“I was totally fine with being the guinea pig for this one,” Fields said. “But for the future, I do hope that they improve on it a little bit.”

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About the Contributor
Mia Hennen, Editor in Chief
Mia Hennen is the current editor in chief for The Sunflower. Before becoming editor, Hennen was the news/managing editor. They are a junior at Wichita State majoring in English and minoring in communications and Spanish, hoping to pursue any career involving writing or editing. Hennen uses they/them pronouns.

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