Extending the “Unity Quilt” Concept

Posted on 6 January 2007. Filed under: Reunifying Gally |

How about making a “Gallaudet Unity Quilt”?

Before discussing this concept, I should give credit where it is due. This notion is entirely inspired by the Deaf Hope Quilting project. They are soliciting quilted contributions to a “Deaf Unity” quilt in which people would create squares showing what “Deaf Unity” means to THEM. What I like about their project idea is that they welcome contributions of quilted blocks from deaf, hard of hearing, and even hearing people–i.e., they don’t restrict themselves to an unnecessarily narrow concept of who can properly be considered “deaf.” THAT’s true “Deaf Unity.” The Deaf Hope Quilting project is meant to produce a quilt that will then be sold to raise funds to benefit deaf women survivors and their children (I assume they mean survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault).

If you’re interested in that particular project, go to http://dhh-community.com/blog/?p=166 and also to http://www.deaf-hope.org. They will be accepting quilted squares until February 14, 2007.

If you like quilting, or are inspired enough by the concept of “Deaf Unity” to try quilting for the first time, then first contribute something to the above charity. After all, they came up with the concept first — I wouldn’t want to compete with them, especially when they are trying to raise funds for such an important cause.

But after February 14–how about making a similar “Gallaudet Unity Quilt”? (Sorry, I can’t be the one to coordinate this–I don’t have enough time. But if the idea excites you, then please post here to volunteer! Or create your own blog to coordinate the project!)

All the following is just me thinking out loud (or, okay, not out loud but in print). You might come up with a very different set of ideas and that’s fine. But just to start off the thinking process (and, I hope, raise interest in the idea):

Anyone in the wider Gallaudet community would be invited to contribute to the quilt–both on campus and off. Students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, former staff/faculty/parents, and future “wanna be” students/staff/faculty/parents.

Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing members of the Gallaudet community would all be invited to participate. That includes people with (or without) cochlear implants, hearing aids, and other technology aids, deaf-blind people, people who grew up oral, with signed English, ASL, at deaf schools, public schools, with cued speech, bi-lingual approach — in short, all communication backgrounds. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual (straight). Transgender and non-transgender people. Black people, Latino, Asian, Native American, Caucasin, people with mixed racial heritage. Deaf/HOH who were adopted, and people who were raised by their biological families. Ninety-year-old Senior citizens who still feel attached to Gallaudet 70 years after graduation; 10 year old deaf children who hope to go to Gallaudet someday; and everyone in between. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Pagans, Bapists, and members of other religions would all be invited to participate. International students and alumni would be included.

And–this is a key point–people on ALL sides of the protests would be actively included. That includes people who very strongly supported the protests 100 percent; people who supported the protests but with certain caveats or reservations; people who did not necessary support Fernandes per se but who nevertheless opposed the protests; people who were purely neutral; people who strongly supported Fernandes; and anyone else who I haven’t covered here.

People could make quilting blocks (or whatever they’re called) and send them to one central location. Then volunteers at the central location (probably on campus would be best) would sew them all together. Then the quilt could be displayed at Gallaudet, at least to start with. Then later, maybe the quilt could be brought to various deaf organizations and schools across the country for other deaf people to see. Also, take photos and put them up on the web.

Why do a “Gallaudet Unity Quilt”? First, individual quilters could seize this as an opportunity to expose other people to what their own unique experience is like. A Deaf drag queen could do a square that depicts how deaf drag queens, too, are part of the wider Gallaudet community. A hard of hearing person with cerebral palsy could use their square to remind the community that they, too, are part of the Gallaudet community and deserve to be included. A Latino hearing interpreter could use his or her square to express his/her feelings being accepted into the wider Gallaudet community. Or, people could put aside individual identities and focus on presenting their own concept of what “Gallaudet Unity” truly means.

Then, once the quilt is done and is put on display, it could be used as an inspirational reminder that, ultimately, there is far more that unites us than divides us. We are an incredibly diverse community–but when it matters, we are able to look past our differences and search for common ground. The process of working on this kind of quilt, then viewing it together–as a community–could be a healing experience for all of us. Viewing the quilt could spark many conversations about all the many different members of our community–including people who are often overlooked. The many different concepts people present of what Gallaudet Unity means, and how it can be achieved, could also spark conversations about how we, as a community, can reconcile and integrate these disparate visions. In what ways are these visions different–and, more importantly, in what ways are these visions the same?

The quilt will not be for everyone. There will always be people who are far too pragmatically minded to be touched by the idea of this project. There will probably be people who will say, “But this is really just a ‘feel good’ project. It doesn’t address the REAL issues. We cannot heal as a community until we do something PRACTICAL to address the real underlying problems.” And all this is true. We still need to address the fact that some DPS personnel do not sign ASL as fluently as they should. We need to address the fact that people of color–deaf or hearing– are not as well represented as they should be in the managerial ranks at Gallaudet. And so on and so on. A “Gallaudet Unity Quilt” will do nothing to address these underlying issues.

But, although we MUST take concrete actions to address these and other concrete problems at Gallaudet, I do nevertheless believe that “feel good” projects still have their place. Sometimes creating a sense of unity takes more than purely pragmatic action. Amorphous concepts like “unity” and “healing” and “reconciliation” often happen at a very primal psychological level. As humans (at least, humans raised in “Western” cultures), we often like to think that we are purely rational beings who are entirely above superstition, symbolism, or other phenomenon that can be considered “primitive” or, perhaps, “touchy-feely.” But, really, we’re just kidding ourselves. True, the purely symbolic (a “unity quilt”) should never replace the purely pragmatic (more ASL training or better hiring procedures for DPS personnel; better training and recruiting of people of color into management positions). But we DO respond to the purely symbolic more strongly than most of us like to admit to ourselves. Symbolic acts do change attitudes. And when attitudes change, then real, daily behavior changes too. I think a “Gallaudet Unity Quilt,” if properly done and properly presented, could be a powerful symbol for all of us.

If this idea excites you–then please jump in and start coordinating it. And when I say you — yes, I do mean YOU! Not that other person reading this blog! YOU! Just insert your name here: “_______”. THAT’S who I’m talking to! YOU, “_______”! No one else!

Just please try to make sure that your project does not compete directly with the Deaf Unity Quilt project. Give them a chance to put together a wonderful quilt before you start actively soliciting quilted blocks for the Gallaudet project. You can use the time between now and February 14 to recruit other volunteers to help you coordinate the effort. You can also use this time to write, develop, and polish a wonderful web site or blog site that will explain the concept of this project. (This should be presented as YOU conceptualize it. If you do the work, then it should reflect YOUR concept for this project, not mine. But this time, when I say “YOU” I mean “YOU” in the plural sense–meaning, everyone who is actively involved in coordinating this project.)

If you do start up something, then of course I would be very pleased to post your announcement (and a few subsequent calls for contributions), and a link to your blog or web site, right here at the ReunifyGally blog.

As they say in Spanish (and someone please correct me if my Spanish is incorrect) — manos a obra: hands to the work!

[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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