The Invitation Still Stands: Making Room for the Presence Peace

I invited Dr. I King Jordan to give a public apology at the 150 years on Kendall Green conference during the question and answer period of his keynote address “DPN and the Evolution of the Gallaudet Presidency“.

Dr. Jordan had just been invited to Saudi Arabia by a recent graduate of Gallaudet, who lavished praise on the former president of Gallaudet. Dr. Jordan’s response was something like: “Well, that is quite a public invitation but I am sure the Prince could arrange for such a visit and I would gladly accept.”

I thought since invitations were being issued and accepted during the Q and A period when they didn’t have direct bearings on the presentation topic – my invitation would be appropriate. Also, given the subject matter of his address (DPN and the Evolution of the Gallaudet Presidency) and the timing of recent events with public figures being requested to issue public apologies, the invitation was fit and just.

After my invitation, which was sadly rejected, many people approached me to say “thank you.” What was especially touching was to see the response from the student protesters. They really and truly went out on the limb for the Deaf community and we owe it to them to fight the battle peacefully at the next level. To me this means not allowing a person who was DIRECTLY responsible for the chaos, injustice and oppression that transpired on Kendall Green this past spring and fall to stand up and give a presentation that was riddled with “complex truths and simple lies.” If no one had said anything – all we would have on the record is an invitation and acceptance for an expense-paid-trip.

Fear vs. Do It

Folks approached me to say its great to have someone outside of Gallaudet ask for this apology – it gives a more national credence to the issue and shows the controversy is greater than just campus politics. Others said “you can say such things because you are an outsider. We can not.” I believe them – I have finally come to a more in-depth understanding of this secret blacklist – this mysterious McCarthyism within the Deaf world (especially within Gallaudet campus).

Two maxims I strive to internalize are:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” MLK, Jr.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Gandhi

A prominent Deaf figure said to me after my invitation, “You have balls. It’s obvious, I King Jordan does NOT.” Being a feminist, I was a bit puzzled – is this a compliment, is this sexually offensive, what is this? Then I reflected on it a bit more and I realized that the origins of the whole “balls” talk in Deaf ASL jargon is about being “emasculated.” I do believe that the ASL Deaf community has really been emasculated and disenfranchised by simultaneous-communication and the rhetoric of “terrorists, anarchist, absolutists, and ‘not Deaf enough.” Furthermore, the gentleman’s point was that to issue a public apology requires a certain amount of bravery and courage. I seriously thought our leader possessed such.

I wish that each of us who desire an apology feel they can ask for one peacefully and publicly. At the same time I recognize the very real and tangible reasons why many can not (spouses’ worrying about jobs, worrying about their Deaf children being picked on, being blacklisted, not having tenure, being excommunicated from the Deaf-world, outcasted, etc). The fear is real and it is paralyzing.

Spin and Denial

A close personal friend of the Jordan family told me it was inappropriate for me to call I King Jordan – Imus. “IKing is no Imus,” she said. Whoa – I never called I. King Jordan a racist or Imus – I made an analogy of how when a community objects to how they are represented or referred to by a public figure – they have the right to call for an apology.

I do not like seeing what I have clearly stated being twisted into “simple lies.” Unfortunately since the conference did not videotape any of the events, there is no record of what I signed. Instead there is only the real time captions text, which are based on the voice interpretation – interpretations not my actual words / signs.
Jordan’s actual words are recording via the captioning because he spoke and signed simultaneously.

Someone posted that it was an inappropriate place for me to have asked Dr. Jordan for an apology. My question is – when and where could I have asked him? The fact that he thought he could stand up and talk about DPN and his presidency and not have any one ask him to comment on his recent actions in regards to the Unity for Gallaudet protest (DPN II) totally floored me. It’s similar to him saying “there is no crisis at Gallaudet” and his forging ahead with naming ceremonies in his and his wife’s honors when people are incensed with unhappiness – it shows a total lack of attunement and sensitivity with the community. He almost succeeded in finishing his keynote address and re-writing history to be mystory (his story). This is why it was the perfect place for him to be asked to apologize. It was his opportunity to honestly and justly rebuild his reputation within the Deaf community.

Advocacy = Angry? NOT

When I returned to Rochester, a few Deaf people approached me to say “hey, you are the trouble maker” or “I heard you insulted the former president of Gallaudet. I am proud of you.”

Troublemaker? Insulted? Insulting people is incongruent with civil disobedience and justice. How is an invitation considered an insult or making trouble? This is what advocacy gets labeled as today – it has somehow been equated with rudeness, aggressive behavior, and even terrorism. Advocates get labeled as insulting, rude, inappropriate and the ever popular – ANGRY. If my actions were insulting or if I did something solely to cause trouble, I would not want anyone to praise such actions.

I issued an invitation to I King Jordan – plain and simple. I did not call him names. I did not slander him. I did not report him to DPS or issue arrests. I simply asked him for a public apology in the interest of peace and healing. If it was ok for him to be invited to Saudi Arabia during the Q and A, why wasn’t it ok for him to be invited to apologize. It wasn’t a new or novel idea as people have been calling for a public apology since the beginning of the protest but it might have been the first time since Fernandes was terminated that anyone publicly and to his face invited him to do so. I did so as much for his sake as our own. I really don’t believe that this is who he wants to be or how he wants to have his legacy remembered. I really hoped that he would apologize. His being a psychology professor, he must have studied community building, Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning, the value of integrity, etc. ….

Little boys

Moreover, my question was pertinent to his keynote address – he spoke at length about how he was a symbol and a spokesperson for the Deaf community by virtue of being their first deaf president. He also told the story of the little boy in NJ who checked out I. King’s hearing aids and his sim-com and rested his elbow on his shoulder as if to claim ownership and kinship with this new king for the Deaf community. Cool. Sweet story but where is this little boy now 19 years later. What has his life shaped up to be since this big achievement of having a physically deaf president lead Gallaudet University? If Dr. Jordan is so attached to this story (I have seen him tell it several times over the years) why wouldn’t he try to track down this lad and see how well he fared as a result of his symbolic leadership. Wouldn’t a leader want the story to be more than a story as it clearly involved an actual person?

So what of this little boy who must be in his early 20s now? Did he attend Gallaudet? Did having this role model CHANGE his life for the better? How does this boy, now a man, feel about I King Jordan today in light of the spring and fall events on Kendall Green. And what of another young little Deaf boy that we have all seen on the internet – has Dr. Jordan met Gideon – see Mosdeux – “Let’s Meet Gideon” short film http://www.mosdeux.com/blog/?p=26? Maybe its time he did. Does Gideon deserve the right to rest his elbow on the shoulder of the next president of Gallaudet college and watch her/him converse with the class in ASL.

Questionable Choices

I have no doubt that Dr. Jordan, his family, Dr. Fernandes, her family, and other chief administrative people have suffered personally in this struggle. I deeply regret any injustice that has been done to them. At the same time, the wisdom of Dr. Jordan and the administration’s actions and choices is highly questionable. Their insistence that JK was the “one and the only” and that all the naming ceremonies must go on during a time of heightened animosity and angst was harmful and intentionally put IKJ’s own wife and himself in the line of fire. Wisdom would have warranted postponing these events until tranquility resumed on the campus. Many of these things could have been avoided had Fernandes stepped down, as I King Jordan in his address praised Zinser for doing in 1988, and allowed for a new and impartial search to be opened.

The Process and Not Politics

Protestors have always stated that their issues were with:

1. the process – a highly qualified African-American Deaf person was cut from the finalist pool over individuals with less experience and credentials
2. the process – the faculty and students had voiced discontent with Jane Fernandes’ leadership since shared governance was bypassed and she was put into the provost’s position six years prior
3. the process – spin city – Gallaudet’s administration leadership and use / abuse of the media – “complex truths and simple lies” – see Robert Johnson’s paper

http://news.gufssa.com/2006/10/27/dr-robert-johnsons-17-page-letter/

1. the process – suppression of freedom of speech and assembly by the administration (new guidelines on “free expression on campus,” disbanning tent city, calling take over of gates “unlawful” when it was herald as civil disobedience in 1988, etc)
2. the process – holding naming ceremonies during a time of campus unrest
3. the process – editorials to the Washington Post by Fernandes and Jordan slandering, baiting, and antagonizing the Deaf community

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/10/13/AR2006101301492.html Fernandes – “Many Ways of Being Deaf”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/01/21/AR2007012101118.html I King Jordan – Deaf Culture and Gallaudet

The issue has always been with the LEADERSHIP or lack there of and the PROCESS.

The more the administration tries to spin and distort truth, the further it will sink and the greater damage it will reap on the very community it claims it is trying to represent and heal.

Now More Than Ever

Deaf people have lobbied long and hard since the advent of indigenous sign languages that while they are a unique people, they make up part of the human condition. In doing so they have asserted themselves not as a theory (a disability) but as “a people” for they are first, last and all the time the people of the eye.” (Veditz, 1910). When Jordan and Fernandes preached from their Washington Post pulpit about inclusivity and many ways of being deaf, they established their plan to shift the focus away from the eye and back to the ear and mouth via technological advances. This shift is to have the pendulum swing back in the direction of oralism, sim-com, audism, and the emasculation of Deaf people. In their editorial pieces they revealed their paternalistic attitudes towards the “absolutists” objections, rejection, and resistance to such a shift.

What Gallaudet needs in its next president – is someone who can cherish all that it means to be people of the eye and welcome the uninitiated into the fold – as Gallaudet has always done. As Paddy Ladd stated in his visit to NTID/RIT several years ago when challenged about the value of Deaf Studies in a college curriculum given the anticipated onslaught of non-signing deaf people due to cochlear implant technology and mainstreaming, he responded (quote based on my memory) “that argument does not beg for less Deaf Studies but rather more. It shows that we need Deaf Studies and ASL courses now more than ever since so many of deaf people will not have access and exposure to their language, culture, traditions, and values – their acculturation will have to take place via formal classes.” Without such exposure and opportunities we will be regulating non-signing deaf people to a “listless limbo” where assimilation, marginality, and the “speaking culture” are all-important as Dr. McPherson mentioned in his keynote address at the 150 years on Kendall Green conference. Without ASL and Deaf culture, how will the “artificial weight” of social discrimination be lifted from our shoulders as we seek “a fair chance in the race of life.” This maxim of the role of democracy as being the great equalizer was emphasized by Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address when he called our attention back to four score (20 years) and seven years ago – do the math and you hit the Declaration of Independence – “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The invitation still stands –

I invite Dr. I King Jordan to issue a public apology by writing an editorial to the Washington Post or posting a video-log retracting his statements attacking members of the protest. I do not desire to see us have to take our advocacy to the point of picketing in front of Gallaudet, boycotting, a demand that he be stripped of his professor emeritus title and any benefits / salary that accompany it. I would much rather he apologize because it is the right thing to do rather than having been coerced to do so. If he waits until a movement rises up around such demands and he then finally chooses to do that which is right, the apology will be hollow and too little, too late.

I doubt we could ever succeed in convincing Dr. Jordan that it is actually he, himself, Dr. Fernandes, and the board’s vision of a “new order” of deaf people which is actually defining the Deaf community in a very narrow and restricted way. That their claim and quest to draw non-signing deaf students to Gallaudet at the expense of Deaf culture and ASL is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is suspect and not yet proven that the babies who are presently being implanted with the latest cochlear implant technology will in fact be a new type of creature, ones that are phonocentric and blind to the eye. If the predictions and claims hold true that we will see a new breed of deaf people, all the king’s horse and all the king’s men could not bring them to Gallaudet or any other program with the word “deaf” in it – even if it is small d. If these “new order” of deaf people are truly non-signers, no matter what type of changes Gallaudet undergoes, it will not be able to draw them to it sacred grounds except, except perhaps if it says “hey, come see what you have been missing. Deafhood.” For all of Dr.
Jordan’s talk about “there are many ways of being deaf…” it seems he has not looked around and seen the absolute truth of this statement. Most of us have come to Deaf culture and ASL late in life and for many of us it was Gallaudet campus that was our entry point. As Greg Hlibok, DPN (1988) student leader and lawyer, noted when he addressed the crowd at the Unity for Gallaudet protest (2006) march on the capitol, “they talk about Gallaudet needing to be more inclusive. Look around you. Look at all of us and how diverse we are. Is this not the inclusivity the administration says it is seeking?” (paraphrased from ASL).

If we are really to talk about exclusive and inclusiveness within the Deaf community, it is best to remember our common denominator is that we are all people of the eye. In one blogger’s account of the incident where I King Jordan was publicly invited to apologize, he noted, – Mercifully, the tension in the room soon dissipated, since the Q & A session’s end meant a ten-minute break. http://blog.deafread.com/kendallgreen150/category/keynote-speech/

It is important to remember that Martin Luther King, Jr stated, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”

Just because the tension in the room dissipated due to the break, it does not mean the presence of justice and true peace have yet surfaced.

Dr. Jordan, the invitation still stands.