National Deaf Group Objects to Arrests at Deaf University

Since the close of the school year last spring, students have been occupying a tent city on the campus of Gallaudet University, the nation’s only university for the deaf, located in northeastern Washington, D.C. The protests, which have escalated since students began occupying a classroom building on October 6, began when provost Jane K. Fernandes was chosen to become the university’s next president. She is to replace I. King Jordan, who in 1988 became the first deaf president to lead Gallaudet, in January.

During King’s tenure, deafness has made tremendous strides toward being considered a culture, with sign language as its root, rather than a disability. Deaf culture and sign language have flourished to such a degree that a new medical procedure to restore partial hearing has met with strong resistance from some. King is credited with much of that progress. Fernandes is deaf, but learned ASL as a second language at age 23, and protestors don’t think the former provost is the right person to represent deaf culture to the world. They have also claimed that she is cold and aloof and that qualified African-American candidates for the presidency were overlooked. The faculty gave Fernandes a vote of no confidence in May.

Last week, a group of 200 students, faculty and staff took control of a classroom building. The football team then blocked the campus entrance, causing the university to shut down. On Friday, dozens of protestors were arrested after Jordan, who is still acting president, gave the go-ahead. The Washington Post, which has been covering the story, reports today that the president of the National Association of the Deaf arrived on campus yesterday and criticized the arrests. The campus has reopened, but Fernandes is still refusing to resign.

For more coverage of campus activism, see Mother Jones‘s 13th annual roundup of campus activism in the current issue, or online.