Past postings in ASL Community Journal


Durr’s Response to IKJ’s article in the WP
Filed under: Op-Ed — Patricia Raswant at 11:02 pm on Sunday, February 4, 2007
14 February 2007 Update: The Washington Post Deaf Culture and Gallaudet by I. King Jordan – Monday, January 22, 2007; A 19.

Response to I King Jordan’s January 22, 2007 letter in the Washington Post
Written by Patti Durr, February 3, 2007

Immediately after Dr. Jane Fernandes was terminated as president-designate by the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet, the only liberal arts college for the Deaf in the world, Dr. I King Jordan, the then president of the college and the first deaf one, issued a statement saying, “now we must all put down our weapons of words and seek to restore a sense of community.” I believed he meant what he wrote; hence, I was very puzzled when I read his editorial two month later in the Washington Post (1/22/07), which stated:

“Frankly, what is happening at Gallaudet is a struggle between defining the deaf community in narrow, exclusive terms or in broad, inclusive terms. There is a very small but vocal group of deaf people who define the community narrowly. I call this group the “absolutists.” They believe you are either deaf or you are not.”

This is a confusing characterization of the protestors and their aim given that absolutist and absolutism in most dictionaries refers to an autocratic style of leadership or governance. It’s ironic the term is being used against the protestors, who were made up of faculty, staff, students, and community members, because a chief complaint by them during the protest was the lack of shared governance at Gallaudet and Jordan and Ferandes’ autocratic decision making during the crisis.

Ironic – yet not surprising – since during the height of the fall protest, Fernandes and Jordan were quick to use inflammatory labels such as anarchists and terrorists for the protestors. Now we see a new term emerge by the President Emeritus of Gallaudet – absolutists. I don’t understand how this act of name calling complies with his own call to “put down our weapons of words and seek to restore a sense of community” for the good of the campus and its future students. Frankly, I’m baffled.

I am also upset to see this continual issue of the “not Deaf enough” debate appear in prestigious publications (Washington Post, NY Times, Boston Globe, Chronicles of Higher Education). The protest causes were complex and can not be watered down to a simplistic case of “Deaf identity struggle.” But since the wounded parties involved keep insisting this is a root cause and since members of the Deaf community at times also assert this is a dominant reason for their opposing Dr. Fernandes’ appointment, let us just examine a bit of this “squabble” to define the Deaf community in inclusive vs. exclusive terms.

In 1988, Gallaudet erupted into a week long protest and lock down of the campus because the Board of Trustees had yet again picked a hearing president of this 124 year old Deaf institution. No arrests were made and the civil disobedience tactics were much the same as what unfolded in this past fall protest when 133 arrests were made. So wasn’t Deaf President Now (DPN) really ALL about Deaf identity politics? Why was the call for a physically deaf president okay in 1988 but the call for a Big D Deaf president in 2006 is labeled political correctness? If deafness itself is a non-issue why would simply someone who can not hear and does not use ASL in public be desirable? Why when some of the students say we want a “Deaf-same president” – they are scoffed at and belittled as just being a bunch of ungrateful radicals, terrorists, anarchists, and now absolutists! Yet, in 1988 when they signed and shouted “Deaf President Now” it was proclaimed to be a civil rights movement? Why is it when the Board twice appointed deaf presidents who use spoken English (with or without voice) and signing at the same time, it is considered inclusive and not excluding of ASL people; whereas, if there was an ASL native president, it is assumed and implied s/he would be excluding of non-signers?

As Anthony Mowl wrote in his May 5, 2006 Inside Higher Ed editorial,
“If Harvard makes a bad choice for president and students protest, you won’t see people saying, “Well they should just be happy that the president can hear.” This is largely how people were viewing the recent Gallaudet protest – “why are they so upset – she’s deaf right? Well, then they should be happy. What more do they want?”

The danger of having basked in the DPN glow and the small ripple effect of Deaf leaders becoming superintendents of Deaf schools is we forgot about tokenism and aiming a bit higher. The DPN protest was never simply about getting a physically deaf president only – it was always about getting a DEAF (cultural, spiritual, linguistic) president but the coup was that the Board would still be making the decision according to audism and the hearing paradigm and would pick Jordan accordingly. So why didn’t the protest continue when the Board announced they had chosen him? One, they may have anticipated how further protest would lead to a polarization within the Deaf community as we have seen in this year’s protest and two, they simply wanted to accept this one step forward for fear it might be taken away from them. When you are finally invited to sit at the table, you take what you are served and you do so with gratitude or you run the risk of eating the scraps off the floor again. It’s called backlash and it’s what the Deaf community around the globe is presently facing as we continue to loose the ability to make our position and point of view heard and understood in the media.

Many people had herald Dr. Jordan for his infamous quote, “Deaf people can do anything but hear.” This was not exactly earth shattering news for most of us; yet, as desperate as the Deaf community was for some kind of validation and voice, this quote was seiged upon as an affirmation motto. Things might have been very different if Jordan had quoted George Veditz, the 7th president of the National Association of the Deaf, who stated in 1910 “Deaf people are facing not a theory but rather a condition for they are first and last and for all times, people of the eye.” This quote emphasizes what makes deaf people unique – it moves us from talking about our EARS to talking about our EYES and it establishes being deaf as a human condition and class, and not as an abstract notion or something to be fixed and treated.

If we are truly to put down “our weapons of words and seek to restore a sense of community” it is important to remember what it is that makes Deaf people unique. Regardless of all the medical technologies, genetic engineering, and educational communication methods chosen for a deaf child, s/he at the end of the day will always be a person of the eye. It is imperative for Gallaudet University to select a president who understands this and Mohandas K. Gandhi’s quote that “no culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” This cautionary notion applies to both sides of the debate as oralis/auralist/audist have long obstructed the use of ASL and Deaf culture for non-signing deaf and hard of hearing people and advocated exclusively for the use of speaking, English signed based communication systems and listening technology while at the same time Deafcentric individuals have rejected non-native ASL, non-big D – Deaf people and cochlear implants. If we can heed this warning we may be able to avoid inflammatory language and work for the advancement of a more in-depth understanding of what it truly means to be people of the eye as we learn to tread carefully and compassionately on a common ground.

Chart Analysis comparing Deaf President Now ’88 with Unity for Gallaudet Now ’06 protests

go to


False Peace vs. True Peace and a “Solution” by Patricia Durr
Filed under: GU Protest Continues, Op-Ed — Patricia Raswant at 11:54 pm on Thursday, October 26, 2006
False Peace vs. True Peace and a “Solution”

Has Getting Deaf People into Leadership Positions Empowered or Entrapped Us?

by Patricia Durr

I’ve been wondering why more d/Deaf folks in positions of power (CEOs, presidents, vice presidents and chairs of programs, companies, professors, student governments, etc) are not taking formal positions on the Unity for Gallaudet protest. Is it apathy or fear?

What does this “I support a solution” talk mean? It’s been puzzling me as I ask folks who are in positions of power – Folks who we have celebrated landing their particular post much as we celebrated I K Jordan becoming Gally’s first deaf prez in 1988.

Lately, I’ve taken to asking – “what does that mean – you support a solution?” I haven’t seen one person who has said “I am opposed to any resolution of the conflict at Gallaudet.” It is pretty much common sense and a given that we ALL support a solution. Social justice is all about peaceful solutions. So as I’m tired of this protest going on and on and worried about the increased violence by the administration – forced arrests, injuries to students, lack of concern for hunger strikers, etc., I have started to ask folks – “What does that mean you support a solution? I’m asking where do you stand on this very important issue.”

Some respond, “I’m neutral.” Others stutter and trip over their empty “solution” slogan. I’ve been thinking of the ‘60s slogan – “if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” This sentiment meant that if you are neutral, you really are part of the problem.

I’ve been wondering about this position of neutrality – even the most “neutral” countries in Europe during World War II were not absolved of responsibility and at times even aided the Axis powers through their “neutrality.” Choosing to be neutral is still a choice – it’s a choice that does not contribute to either side and thus is part of the problem in my mind.

So what could possibly prompt some of the folks I really look up to, love and care about to take positions of “just wanting a solution” – not caring what the solution is and just proclaiming a role of neutrality as if they were Switzerland? When I do a poll of these folks – they all turn out to be folks who perceive (real or unreal) that they will have something to loose if they take a position. There is mention of not wanting to burn bridges, not wanting their position to reflect badly on them or their group, not wanting it to get out that they are on this particular side etc.

What happened to the good of the group, what happened to humanitarianism, what happened to risk taking for the collective community? As the protest starts to show signs in the protestors’ favor – as more and more faculty (particularly hearing faculty) start to speak out at Gallaudet, the protest gains more validity and warrants more support. Yahoo, more are signing up and on but at the same time – geez, what took u so long?

MLK, Jr. spoke about a false peace and a true peace. He is quoted as saying “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” A false peace as I understand him is a “solution” regardless of what that solution would be. Just a solution – just an end to the conflict – that is a false peace, which simply allows the problem to fester and rear its ugly head at a later date and time. Think of the Missouri compromise, the reconstruction, and segregation (separate but equal).

I have been hoping and praying for a TRUE peace – a presence of justice – where Dr. Fernandes and Dr. I King Jordan listen to and respect their faculty, staff, students and the Deaf community at large. I am also hoping that those who have been bearing the “seeking A solution” slogan – apparently meaning any ole solution will do just fine as long as the protest stops – will start to ask themselves how can justice manifest itself at Gallaudet today and then perhaps they will see the value and necessity of taking a stand. I would also encourage them to examine Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha (truth force via peaceful, civil, non-cooperative resistance) and see their applicability to the UFG protest at Gallaudet University.

As a professor, when I have covered resistance Deaf View / Image Art (De’VIA) such as Dupor’s “Family Dog,” Miller’s “Ameslan Prohibited,” and “Thornley’s Milan, Italy 1880” many people will express their ability to readily identify with the messages being communicated yet at the same time show discomfort at it being expressed so loudly, clearly, and publicly. Comments of worrying about what others will think when they see it are echoed. These political artistic resistance expressions are often characterized to be “angry art.” This reluctance to examine, question, explore, expose for a whole host of reasons may doom us to having history repeat itself again and again.

As more and more d/Deaf people are able to become leaders in business, entertainment, colleges, and other positions of power, instead of feeling more empowered and obligated to supporting and defending the people who have helped them get where they are, they are instead feeling like their hands are tied. They can not speak out, they can not take concrete positions for fear of being labeled as “angry” or “militant.” This has always been the danger of celebrating the individual instances of success by a d/Deaf individual – ya hoo WE have made it because so-n-so is now the director of such-n-such. When in fact so-n-so is far less likely to ever take a stand or go to bat for our collective rights again because s/he feels they can not. Meanwhile, hearing professors, hearing student government leaders, hearing CEOs, and hearing VPs can and ARE speaking out on our behalf. So what’s up with that? Why can folks outside the deaf community – see and support whereas are very own flesh and blood are pleading neutrality?

It is interesting to note that some of the most vocal and powerful letters calling for Dr. Fernandes’ resignation have come from very prominent Deaf leaders most of whom are retired. They perceive their hands to no longer be tied and they are free to take a stand instead of just advocating for the obvious – a solution. Would that more Deaf leaders who are in positions of power largely as a positive fall out of the 1988 d/Deaf President Now protest see the need for true peace and the role they have to play in advocating for it. Otherwise, Getting Deaf People into Leadership Positions Actually Entraps Them Rather Than Empowers Us.

In Alice Walker’s book – Possessing the Secret of Joy – she concludes by noting that the secret to possessing joy is indeed – peaceful resistance!


Durr Responds to JKF’s article in the Washington Post
Filed under: Reporting — Patricia Raswant at 10:39 am on Monday, October 16, 2006
Editor’s note: This is the editorial Patricia Durr sent to the Washington Post in response to JKF’s opinion piece published last Saturday, October 14, 2006.

While I am not an alumni, student, faculty or staff member of Gallaudet,
Gallaudet is a very sacred place to me. For me as a hard of hearing person
– it was also like coming “home” as Dr. Fernandes, the president-designate
of Gallaudet University, calls it in her opinion piece in yesterday’s
Washington Post. Ironically it was a place where I met my future husband
who is hearing and signed more fluently than I did when we first met. It
was also I place where I gained a more deeper understanding of civil rights
and the commonalities of all struggles for equality and justice.

People have asked me if I support the protest to which I readily sign YES
as long as the protesters remain peaceful and civil. If I were in Dr.
Fernandes’ shoes and saw such discontent and questions about process, I
would have immediately submitted a resignation and re-applied because it is
better for people to have all those questions removed and trust the results
than to lead a campus when the selection is so suspect.

I was surprised to see Dr. Jane K. Fernandes making no mention of the
Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni’s OFFICIAL REASONS for protesting her
appointing in the article she wrote and thus no response to the true
issue. The protestors are demanding that she resign and the search process
be re-opened because they view the process to have been FLAWED. The
protesters saw the process was flawed because three finalists were
selected, of which one does not have a doctorate yet and the other has
little to no administrative experience. The third being the more
experienced Dr. Fernandes. Yet, her experience was achieved largely when
she was put into the provost position without shared governance and faculty
input by Dr. Jordan (the current president of Gallaudet). This act may
have paved the path to her present appointment but it also paved the path
to this controversy.

In the spring after the announcement of her selection, the FACULTY, which
is largely made up of hearing professors, voted no confidence in Dr.
Fernandes and the Board of Trustees. This is highly unusually at any
college and usually merits great attention by the administration to try to
repair relations between the groups. Instead Gallaudet responded by
further autocratic decision making and digging in on their position. Dr.
Fernandes’ and Dr. Jordans’ continual insistence that this is about “Deaf
identity politics” is destructive to the very community they claim they are
trying to preserve.

The irony of Dr. Jordan ordering students to be arrested last night for
“unlawful assembly” when he himself was put into power by the product of
this very same unlawful assembly in 1988 is plan to see by anyone who has
cherished and valued the legacy of the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement.
De Ja Vu is abound on Kendall Green these days. In the Post, Dr. Fernandes
evokes imagery of herself innocently standing next to the volcano of audism
and racism. Dr. Zinser, the hearing 7th president of Gallaudet, who
resigned as a result of the DPN protest acknowledge that she too was pretty
much naive and unprepared for what was to unfold in 1988 and recognized
that her appointment was a catalyst to a civil rights movement to which she
nobly tendered her resignation. She did so as she saw the value and
importance of civil disobedience, civil rights, and the importance of the
college being open for learning.

If Dr. Fernandes truly cherishes Gallaudet so intensely and wishes to see
the campus returned to academic learning for the good of the Institute and
the community at large wouldn’t she too, like Zinser before her, see the
wisdom in tendering her resignation. The community is not demanding that
one of the other two finalists be selected in her place as was done in
1988. Instead they are demanding that the search be re-opened because
their issue is with the PROCESS and not solely with the candidate. This
demand achieves two goals – 1. to assure the process is not flawed and 2.
that the finalist pool would have a little more color. For all Fernandes
claims of how she understands racism and audism, she has to recognize that
the Institution she works for and will soon hold the top post in failed to
include a highly qualified African-American Deaf man in the finalist pool
while deeming other clearly underqualified candidates to be more suitable.
Many who have studied the history of DPN see this to be a case of stacking
the finalist deck in Fernandes’ favor as was done for Zinser as well.

Dr. Fernandes is correct in her observations that the selection process and
now the protest have opened a can of worms for Gallaudet. More and more
issues will surface and old wounds open. If Dr. Fernandes and Dr. Jordan
can take a moment to remember how blissfully happy they were when Dr.
Zinser submitted her resignation, they will see the wisdom in Dr. Fernandes
following suit to which she can re-apply when a fair and inclusive search
process has been established. If they continue to miniminize this
presidential protest as being a “deaf enough issue” and make it be a power
struggle of us and them then no compromise is in site. The demand that the
search be re-open is in fact a compromise as Dr. Fernandes is welcome to
reapply. If they demand had been for her to resign and another candidate
be appointed then, yes we could say its all deaf identity politics and not
about process.

Today as I walked around the campus grounds and chatted with the protestors and employees, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad. In many ways Gallaudet was my birth-place as a Deaf person and to see it be portrayed as a Deaf against Deaf struggle when it so easily could be resolved, leaves me worrying about Gally’s future.


An Analysis of “-isms” within the Gallaudet ’06 Protest by Patricia Durr
Filed under: Op-Ed — Patricia Raswant at 12:45 am on Thursday, October 5, 2006
Patricia Durr is an Associate Professor at the NTID Cultural and Creative Studies Department.

There have been a lot of “isms” tossed around in articles, websites, videoblogs, and community discussions in regards to the protest that began last spring 2006 at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for Deaf students in the world, after it’s selection of a deaf Caucasian female, Jane K. Fernandez, to become the new President of Gallaudet University.

“-Isms” such as racism, audism, and sexism have been raised. This is an attempt to put these “isms” under the microscope and see which, if any, are at play.

Racism is a belief in the moral or biological superiority of one race or ethnic group over another or others. (Wikipedia)

Is the selection of Jane K. Fernandez (JKF) by the board of trustees a case of racism or is the opposition of JKF as president by the Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni (FSSA) a case of reverse racism?

Fernandes’s last name is from her Portuguese husband not her family of origin. So what if any racism is at play on Kendall Green today?

Issues were raised by various campus groups about the lack of diversity within the finalist pool. Of the three finalists, whom were all D/deaf, none were Latino, African-American, Native American, or Asian. Questions have arisen as to why Dr. Glenn Anderson, a Deaf African-American college professor and administrator, did not make it into the finalist pool. Concerns have been voiced that his strong qualifications and great respect within the Deaf community made him too strong of a finalist and thus was eliminated to stack the deck in Dr. JKF’s favor.

Is the lack of any person of color in the finalist pool a sign of RACISM at Gallaudet? In the last five years, RIT’s President Simone put an extreme amount of pressure on all departments to have people of color in their candidate pools and the efforts have paid off. “Recruiting of AALANA [African American, Latin American, and Native American] faculty remains extraordinary, with 29% of new faculty hires being AALANA.” (Simone, August 31, 2006)

Gallaudet could have and many argue, should have, had an affirmative-action type policy that the finalist pool for the new president must have at least one AALANA finalist. Concerns of discrimination are heightened by the fact that Anderson was bumped from the finalist list while one candidate who does not yet hold a doctorate was selected and another with little or no academic administrative experience were chosen.

Is the protesters’ rejection of Dr. JKF a case of reverse racism – discriminating against her because she is not from a minority background? Had a person of color, who happened to be woefully underqualified, been in the finalist pool and chosen to be President over other more qualified Deaf finalists – then yes, we could scream reverse discrimination but that is not what has taken place at Gallaudet. Instead a highly qualified and desirable Deaf African-American was not selected for the finalist pool without any apparent rationale or justification. This may signal racism on the part of the B of T but not the protesters.

Audism is a term used to describe discrimination or stereotypes against deaf or hard of hearing people, for example by assuming that the cultural ways of hearing people are preferable or superior to those of deaf or signing culture, or that deaf people are somehow less capable than hearing people. (Wikipedia)

Is audism at play in the appointment of Dr. JKF to be Gallaudet’s next president? In the 1988 Deaf President Now protest that lead to the resignation of Gallaudet’s first hearing female president to make room for the first deaf president at Gallaudet, we see a clear case of audism. Even though that term was not in our common venicular at the time of the protest, the practice of Audism is ancient. Dr. Elisabeth Zinser was selected to be Gallaudet’s 7th president over two D/deaf finalists largely because the board of trustees saw being able to hear and speak to be superior. Of the other two finalists, Dr. Harvey Corson, a native signer and superintendent of a Deaf school, and Dr. Irving King Jordan (IKJ), a latened deaf person and dean of the psychology department, Dr. IKJ was closer to the hearing paradigm than Corson. Before the 1988 protest, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni exerted heavy pressure for the selection of a Deaf president stating that after 124 years it was time for one. After the announcement of the selection of yet another hearing president of Gallaudet, there was a huge, powerful, and peaceful protest which resulted in Zinser resigning and Dr. IKJ being selected. The 1988 presidential search also had an AALANA semi-finalist, who was one of the highest ranking Deaf people in a government administrative position, yet, somehow this individual was deemed to be less qualified than a dean of the psychology department?

The 1988 protest was about getting a deaf president – by most accounts Dr. IKJ wouldn’t have been the Deaf community’s first choice over Dr. Corson or the other bumped semi-finalists but of course the Deaf community was not asked. Meeting with success so quickly with Zinser’s resigning after only one week of protesting, the protestors were elated and did not have time to do a post-colonial analysis as to whether or not the appointment of Dr. IKJ was another coup pulled by the board of trustees. Fast forward to 2006 and you have a more developed and empowered Deaf community. Awareness of racism, audism, linguistic oppression and Deafhood have fostered a greater understanding of the birth-rights of Deaf people.

Thus, while Dr. JKF is physiologically deaf, she has not asserted herself as an advocate and protector of American Sign Language and Deaf culture while in her post as provost at Gallaudet nor since her selection as president.

Is her rejection by the Faculty, Staff, Student, and Alumni (FSSA) group and the vote of no confidence in her and the board by the faculty (the majority of which are hearing) a product of JKF not being Deaf enough (or Deafcentrism)?

Dr. JKF and Dr. IKJ have been quoted in the media (press and radio) minimizing the current protest as a case of the Deaf community’s identity struggle as it grapples with whether or not Dr. JKF is “Deaf enough.” This precept is dangerous and destructive to the US Deaf community and those abroad. The FSSA and the faculty vote of no confidence revolve around Dr. JKF’s performance and track record while serving as Provost to Gallaudet for the past six years. There is also a residual fall out regarding Dr. JKF being appointed to the Provost position by Dr. IKJ without any shared governance processes or input from the faculty body. What’s more Dr. JKF assumed the post of provost after Dr. Roz Rosen got demoted from the Provost slot by Dr. IKJ, again without any input from the faculty and against many of their wishes. Interestingly enough Dr. Rosen is said to have been a semi-finalist in this year’s presidential search but like Dr. Anderson did not make the final cut.

Issues of a flawed search process where Dr. JKF, clearly President IKJ’s prodigy and favored choice to be his replacement, was selected over a pool of two other less qualified but still preferred finalists are at the heart of the matter.

Given the controversy on campus it has afforded the students, faculty, staff and community at large to analyze just what it is they want from a President at Gallaudet. It has afforded us the opportunity to examine the yoke of our oppressors – Institutional Audism. The result is we see an emergence of awareness and agitation that echo the rally cries of George Veditz for self-advocacy, militant vigilance, and the preservation of sign language. While the administration may have sought to quell the unrest by announcing the ninth president to be Dr. Fernandez at the END of spring semester thinking any possible protest would wane during the summer break, they clearly underestimated the power of the internet and may have allowed the parties involved to do a deeper assessment as to just exactly WHAT do they want from their next president. A clear voice has emerged and it is the desire to have a President who not only knows “sign language,” but one who embraces and champions for AMERICAN Sign Language and Deaf culture. In this the Deaf community mirrors many other disenfranchised groups who journeyed through post-colonial oppression by adopting the ways of the master. While the masses awaited their newly empowered leaders to advocate for their rights instead they were often greeted with first-hand images of how power can corrupt.

While IKJ has done a commendable job leading this beloved beacon of the Deaf world and there is little doubt that JKF possess the ability to do the same, neither have established themselves as advocates of American Sign Language and Deaf culture. It is common for hearing people to converse openly without signing on campus. Gallaudet students are not required to take a single course in ASL or Deaf studies for their core requirements. They have allowed for Gallaudet to have a published definition of ASL which is discongruent with the scholarly, in-depth, and accurate definition that Stokoe’s established while working on Gally’s hollowed turf. Whatsmore, the recent guidelines restricting free expression on campus are designed to tie the hands of the very group that carried IKJ into his place of power years ago.

Given JKF’s impressive resume it is unfathomable as to how she escaped an in-depth understanding of ASL, Deaf culture, Deaf studies, audism, and the Deaf community. Gallaudet has a wealth of hearing, late deafened, Deaf, deaf, and hard of hearing individuals who have been stauncher advocates for ASL and Deaf rights than Dr. IKJ and Dr. JKF. Dysconscious audism (a form of internalized audism by deaf people) may be at play here rather than deafcentrism.

Sexism is commonly considered to be discrimination and/or hatred against people based on their sex rather than their individual merits, but can also refer to any and all systemic differentiations based on the sex of the individuals. (Wikipedia)

Some Deaf supporters of Dr. JKF have raised the question, “Is the Deaf community at large opposing her selection because they are not ready for a Deaf female president of Gallaudet University?”

Gallaudet University (board of trustees and search committee) has twice chosen a female to lead its campus (Zinser and now JKF) so clearly the administration is not exercising sexism. However, their insistence in stacking the finalist pool of presidential candidates in both of these cases with underqualified Deaf males and more qualified females who do not know and/or advocate for ASL and Deaf culture may be a way of exerting audism and tokenism over the sexes. The Deaf community as a class is disenfranchised enough without this form of strategizing and manipulation.

In a survey of various videoblogs, webpostings, articles etc there has not been one word proclaimed against Dr. JKF based on her sex. There has been no pronouncement of a lack of faith that a woman could do the job of leading the first and only Deaf liberal arts college in the world. While there may have been a few posts stating a sentiment of “although she has an xx chromosome making her a biological female, she conducts herself largely as an administrative male” this is not an unusual criticism of women in leadership positions. Often in order to get by and succeed, women have felt compelled to adopt the values and behaviors of the “ole boys network.” It is unknown if this complaint is applicable to Dr. JKF and is irrelevant to this discussion. Sexism and reverse sexism would entail that she is being discriminated against or given preferential treatment based on her sex and there is no evidence to that effect. Many people within the Deaf community have stated a strong preference for Dr. Laurene (Gallimore) Simms and Dr. Roz Rosen. Both of whom are Deaf females so the cry of sexism seems largely moot in this situation and may rather be being used as a ploy to “divide and conquer” within the Deaf community.

Thus, while sexism does exist within our community a quick survey of the various”-isms” within Gallaudet’s current protest, racism and audism stand out. Ageism and heterosexism are also important questions that have not been publicly discussed. Ageism is bias against a person or group on the grounds of age. When that bias is the primary motivation behind acts of discrimination against that person or group, then those acts constitute age discrimination. (Wikipedia) There have been speculations as to if Dr. Rosen and Dr. Anderson were deemed to be too old to lead Gallaudet for a substantial length of time. If they were dismissed due to their age, this would be illegal and hard to verify.

Heterosexism is bias against lesbians, gay males, and bisexuals – or any group that is not exclusively heterosexual. (Wikipedia) In terms of heterosexism, since we are not aware of any Gay or Lesbian person having applied to become president of Gallaudet, we can not properly comment. In “The Twain Shall Never Meet,” author Richard Winefield speculates that Edward Miner Gallaudet, the hearing founder and president of Gallaudet, was gay but due to the times in which he lived he had to marry rather than be a bachelor president of an all male college. While we would hope an “out” Gay or Lesbian Deaf person applying to be president of Gallaudet University, would be a non-issue, we can not offer any such assurances given that Gallaudet’s track record on “isms” and the nation’s at large.

Regardless of the outcome of the current protest on Gallaudet University, the dissent may return this Deaf Mecca to leading the way to the intellectual emancipation of Deaf people. An analysis of self, community and “ism” is being borne out of this dialetic dialogue on campus and across the globe via the internet. Nothing operates in a microcosm and Gallaudet University mirrors in many ways our U.S. society and culture. “Isms” are sadly part of our heritage and we must work long and hard to overcome them. Given the nature and fact that Gallaudet is a university of, by and for the Deaf, it is fitting that audism be put under the microscope. The greatest form of oppression against Deaf people and assertion that hearing people are superior (”-ism”) has taken place in the form of oral/auralism. The denial of an accessible and natural language and an aggressive tendency to alter the bodies of Deaf people has nearly resulted in linguistic genocide.

This preference for spoken languages may be more thoroughly examined when looking at phonocentrism. Phonocentrism is the idea that sounds and speech is inherently superior (or “more natural”) than written language. (Wikipedia)

Hopefully in our quest to scrutinize and rectify the role of Institutional audism, we will zone in on the lasting impact and legacy of oral/auralism and phonocentrism and we will avoid any perchance for tokenISM. We see that the greatest form of discrimination that may have taken place in the 1988 and 2006 presidential selections at Gallaudet University has been one of language rights. Besides the hearing founder of this esteemed Institution, Gallaudet has never since had a president whose native language was American Sign Language. George Veditz’s stated in his famed 1913 filmed ASL speech, “Preservation of Sign Language”- “I hope you will cherish and defend this beautiful language as the greatest gift that God has given us.” Almost one hundred years later, we have to sadly ask Gallaudet U. “Well, do you?”

Patricia Durr


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