Gallaudet Uprising: Where the Deaf Will Be Heard

The following article was submitted to BiblioMarket for possible publication. While it is somewhat dated, having been written shortly following Fernandes’ termination by the Board of Trustees, I felt it worthwhile to publish a viewpoint from an author Down Under. [Sydney, Australia] / -Ken @ BiblioMarket

By Dumpstered Twin
During the writing of this article, having spent two whole days researching, I found my eyes watering, on the day of the deadline I finally broke-down after having read about all the overwhelming acts that people undertook in order to see a freer society – to know how that oppression feels, to experience discrimination firsthand, makes them our sisters and brothers. I’m afraid I cannot give it the justice that it deserves – I apologise.

On October 29th, 2006 the Board of Trustees finally gave-in to demands to terminate the ingoing president-select Dr Jane K Fernandes after nearly a five month long deaf uprising lead by students, staff, faculty members, and alumni at Gallaudet University, Washington DC. GU is specifically catered for deaf people. The protest intensified last month in which a tent city arose, 135 people were arrested, 6 people went on hunger strike, a security raid was conducted at the student association due to a supposed bomb scare, misinformation disseminated and protestors labeled as ‘terrorists’, job security was put on the line and expulsions threatened, the university was shutdown and various buildings and offices were occupied – and this isn’t counting the numerous solidarity actions and responses around the country and globe.

Contrary to the mainstream press, the protests have not been mainly about the desire to inaugurate an American Sign Language (ASL) -fluent president, “deaf enough” for the seat of power, but instead according to the Gallaudet University Faculty, Staff, Students & Alumni (FSSA) coalition, it is about “our desire for a president of Gallaudet who is fairly chosen, well-qualified, well-respected, and able to best lead and represent us as a growing diverse community” – all the things which Fernandes wasn’t. There is, in addition, also another issue: Fernandes and the majority of the Board, with most being oralist and have average signing capabilities, practice audism (discrimination based on aural ability). With Fernandes at the helm, this would mean that Deaf culture, those who are empowered in being Deaf as opposed to those deaf wanting to act ‘normal’, would be under attack and audism, for example, would be reinforced in an institution where the majority only speak ASL yet the security are not required – the death of Carl Dupree in 1991 was the result of this. That being said, the uprising has only proved to galvanise and unite d/Deaf people.

It is truly inspiring to see everyone at a demo signing so emphatically to the slogan “Unity for Gallaudet!” (or “Gallaudet Unite Same!” in ASL). Another common sign is the ILY or “I Love You” made as if you’re at a rock concert with only your thumb, index and pinky extended. When Znuage (Zoee Nuage) was asked this in a personal correspondence, she replied “[it] may seem a bit odd to people but it is mostly just showing everyone that we love each other and are proud of each other for fighting what we believe is right for Gallaudet… [and] that encourages people to realize that one thing is true, we all are deaf, we all have stories and experiences to tell about growing up deaf, and that we need to support each other and not pull/push each other down [aka ‘crab theory’].” One problem with signing is that it requires assistance when communicating with others that have no knowledge of ASL, such as the police. The administration was active in obstructing this. Robert Loeffler, staff member to Gallaudet Interpreting Services states that “the administration- the Office of Public Relations- stopped paying for interpreters for the media for the protest”. This points to the underhandedness of the largely hearing administration to negligently and dangerously hamstring the safety of the protestors and to stymie their messages of revolt.
On the deaf-politico-blog, Znuage (Zoee Nuage) describes audism akin to racism and sexism, and that audists “tend to have misconceptions about Deaf people, such as they all cannot write well because English is not their first language, that the ones who can speak well are smarter than the ones who can’t, that life must be terrible if one cannot hear and one should do everything and anything to help their hearing such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.” Perceptions that Ridor, on, says still hold true by the Board – some of whom are hearing, like Frank Ross (employed by KPMG) and L. Richard Kinney, do not even have any roots with the deaf community, and allegedly, simply got on Board because of being good friends with (outgoing) President Irving King Jordan. Only a minority of six (out of seventeen) members are alumni.
In 1988 the eight-day Deaf President Now upheaval occurred to demand, and had won, a deaf president for deaf people; however the 150-years of bureaucratic paternalism persists as the Board of Trustees still maintains a stranglehold on the governance of the university; who becomes a Board member and who becomes the next president – the self-perpetuation of the elite. The president’s tenure is also renowned for being lengthy and usually only until they retire – Dr Jordan (the first deaf president) has been in position for an astounding eighteen years, quite common for GU presidents it seems.

Gallaudet University, according to its website, is the world’s only comprehensive, multipurpose institution of higher education for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. What some might say as a liberal bastion attesting to the progress of liberal society, and what most would deny also would be the inherent oppressiveness and paternalism within liberal ideology – GU’s autocratic administrative structure is a perfect example – a microcosm of western liberal society, if you will. Just as paternalism has served its purpose, and requires change, liberalism has served its usefulness also.
In an impassioned letter to the Gallaudet protestors and to the Board of Trustees, Dr Roz Rosen aptly writes that “DPN does not mean Deaf President Now. It has always meant Deaf People Now.”

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2 thoughts on “Gallaudet Uprising: Where the Deaf Will Be Heard

  1. Oh wow. It is true! I’m agree with you 😀
    I wish USDB (Utah Sschool for the Deaf and Blind) same thing, but not really work out like 100% yet. I really want that what you said about Gallaudet.
    My dream is USDB better school, understand about Bi-Bi, deaf culture, and deaf education that I need someone to support my school, Jean Massieu School of the Deaf in Utah. Help us to improve to be good school. You know what USDB are not really good school because they don’t understand about DEAF Culture, Bi-Bi and else, they don’t really care about DEAF Education, and DEAF students and staffs’ need to thing to belong the education.

    Hey everybody, Are u support, ASL or Oral, which??


  2. a good one.
    hey – i just established a new wordpress site, i need some help. where do i find the link to my own rss to give to deafread, and how do i find the edit button for “pages”? do comment on my site –
    thanks 😉


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