The Reunification of Gallaudet, Part Two: Moving Forward

Posted on 5 December 2006. Filed under: Reunifying Gally |

The Reunification of the Gallaudet University Community:
Moving Forward, with Respect, Love, and Hope

The Reunification of Gallaudet, Part Two: Moving Forward

[Before reading this, see Part One: Where We Are Now]

Deaf ASL users on campus have felt that audism has not been taken seriously enough. Too many professors, DPS personnel, and other workers on campus do not sign well enough to be understood by those who find ASL to be their most natural language. That harms the quality of their education, the security of their person, and their access to civil rights. I urge that we open dialogue on these issues explore policies to address these problems. The elimination of audism is a critical component of healing for the campus community.

Yet, Deaf ASL users are not the only people on campus or in the wider deaf community, who experience oppression. Those who were raised oral, or who are more comfortable with signed English than ASL, or who are hard of hearing, or who use cochlear implants, have too frequently felt excluded and scorned for being—yes—“not Deaf enough.” People who are deaf-blind are often excluded because sighted deaf people may feel uncomfortable using tactile signs. And people who have cerebral palsy may be rejected by those who lack the patience to understand their signing.

Some who were themselves “not deaf enough” supported the protests. But others are drawn to the vision Fernandes presented for a Gallaudet that would welcome all varieties of deaf people—including the majority who didn’t grow up with ASL. The “deaf card” debate has been a divisive issue. But it could not have been so effectively used within the Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing community if we were not already divided among ourselves by the pain of prejudice and exclusion. Dialogue on these issues must be one part of our healing as a community.

The protests began, in part, with students of color who, for too long, have lacked true acceptance on campus. They have experienced racism. And they have suffered for the lack of deaf role models of color. They rightly miss the opportunity to look up to someone in a position of authority or prestige and say, “There’s someone just like me!” Addressing the deep-rooted challenges of racism and white privilege is essential to the healing process. We need dialogue, and we need policy changes.

We also must not overlook the potential roots of another explosion of passion in the future. We must also look to the issues of prejudice based on national origin and citizenship status, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, and disability. We must open dialogue on these challenges as well.

Another root of the protests is the limited voice that students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, and the wider Deaf/deaf community have had in the governance of Gallaudet University. The selection of Dr. Jane Fernandes came about in part because the Board of Trustees and administration disregarded, or did not adequately understand, the deep-seated resentment that some members of the community felt toward Fernandes.

Whether their perceptions are right or wrong is not the issue. The issue is: can we create a better university if we can make it more accountable to students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and members of the deaf community and their loved ones? For my part, I believe the answer is: Yes. I believe that improving the governance of universities, organizations, and corporations is a necessary and evolving part of living in a democracy. I hope on-going dialogue can begin on these issue—and never end.

But most important for the immediate future is this: that we begin dialogue.

That dialogue will be long, and it will hurt. The pain created by our crisis will be even more difficult to resolve than the crisis itself. Burying our pain will not heal it. Our pain cannot be pretended out of existence. It can only be dealt with by surgery—the surgery of open, respectful dialogue.

But we of the Gallaudet community are strong. We are united by that thread of spun diamond: our love for our Mecca, our beacon of hope, our home—Gallaudet. We stand upon ashes, but these ashes can be a new beginning. We can rise again, and fly high. We can withstand the pain of dialogue. And we will move toward reunification. And we can do it with respect, and hope, and love.

[This essay was written by Andrea Shettle, MSW (’92; G’00; former staff member)]

[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]

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