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Students Protest at Gallaudet University


Susan F. Crist

November 6, 2006

Students Protest at Gallaudet University

            Deaf students are arrested at Gallaudet University!  The appointment of Dr. Jane K. Fernandes as president of Gallaudet University caused a strong reaction from the university's students.  Student protesters camp ed out on lawns and brought classes to a halt. (USA Today, 2006).  After eleven days of protest and 130 arrests, classes were back in session, and the university's Board of Trustees had revoked Dr. Fernandes' contract.  Student protesters celebrated a victory for the school and for the deaf community.  "Deaf Power" was shown to be alive and well at Gallaudet.

            Gallaudet University, the premier liberal arts college for deaf students, has known student protests in the past.  The out-going president, I. King Jordan, was hired as president after student protests in 1988.  He became first deaf president of Gallaudet. (CBS News, 2006).  Jordan supported Jane Fernandes' appointment to president of the university.    He thought Dr. Fernandes had a great vision for the university.  Fernandes felt Gallaudet must "reach out to a broader population of deaf and hard-of-hearing students"(CBS News, 2006) for the school to remain viable.  She stated declining enrollment and graduation rates mandated need for change. (CBS News, 2006).  Students countered the campus is "ASL [American Sign Language] orientated" and Fernandez didn't promote a total ASL environment. (USA Today, 2006)&n bsp; Dr. Fernandez had, they said, mainstreamed in school and didn't learn American Sign Language (ASL) until age 20. (CBS News, 2006).  Students were also concerned their feedback had not been taken seriously.   Students should have a greater voice in choosing the president of the college, they said.  Students wanted someone who was part of deaf culture with a strong voice for the deaf.  Students were also concerned about Fernandes' leadership ability.  They also voiced concerns about whether or not Dr. Fernandes would promote racial diversity at Gallaudet. (USA Today, 2006).& nbsp; 

            One of the core beliefs behind the student protests at Gallaudet is the preservation of Deaf Culture.  A whole culture has developed especially since the student protests at Gallaudet University in 1988.  Not only has American Sign Language fostered the Deaf Community Culture, but so has the prevalence of the deaf marrying the deaf. Deaf values have developed in the Deaf Community, as well, creating a unique environment and culture.  With the growth of Deaf Culture has come unity and loyalty within the Deaf Community.  It has also fostered a belief that deafness as an asset, not a disability.   The Deaf Community wants to protect and promote Deaf Culture. (, 2006).  With onslaught of medical advances and push from outside the Deaf Community for the deaf to become hearing, there are concerns that the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture will become a thing of the past.  (USA Today, 2006).

            Gallaudet University is one place that Deaf Culture is held dear.  The student protests testify to the relevance of Deaf Culture.  Winning the battle for a voice in the administration and leadership of Gallaudet is a victory for Deaf Culture.  As one student said, overturning Dr. Fernandes' appointment was a triumph for "Deaf Power."  (New York Times, 2006). 


Classes resume at university for the deaf, protests continue. (2006). Examiner. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from

Deaf culture. (2006). Retrieved November 1, 2006 from

Deaf school's leader ousted amid protests: Gallaudet University's board rejects incoming president Jane Fernandes. (2006). CBS News. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from

Dorell, Oren. Gallaudet classes resume as protests continue. (2006). USA Today. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from

Schemo, Diana Jean. (2006). At university for deaf, protesters press broader demands. The New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from

Gallaudet protest moves to Capitol Hill. (2006). Examiner. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from


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