Lately, protests by the deaf students at Gallaudet University in DC have been all over the news and I'm very puzzled by all this attention they're getting. There are other student protests going on around the country over much more important issues that have received scant news coverage in comparison. Students at the University of Miami have been staging a hunger strike and at the University of Virginia there have been student sit-ins: In both cases, in an effort to force their respective university administrations to provide higher wages for their low wage workers. It would seem to me that privileged kids fighting for economic justice for workers on the lowest rung of the income ladder is a much more compelling story than whether some spoiled brats at Gallaudet are angry over the appointment of a president they don't like.
The problems began when the University selected the former provost for academic affairs, Jane K. Fernades, to become the next president and her great crime seems to have been that she won't ban students speaking on campus. Apparently, some students who grew up using standard American Sign Language are threatened by other forms of communication for deaf people that they're not used to and find harder to learn and understand. Fernandes contends that Gallaudet must embrace "all kinds of deaf people" in order to survive and that the university should strive to be more inclusive of other deaf people who didn't grow up using sign language.
Obviously, that's just crazy talk: According to the NYT
, the faculty has issued a vote of no confidence
in Fernades, a board member has resigned citing "aggressive threats,"
this week the university had to close its front gate during graduation ceremonies because of a bomb threat and the campus lawn is littered with protesters tents. Many of the students up in arms about this appointment say that Fernandes is unqualified to lead a deaf university because she only learned to sign when she was 23.
Sounds like a reason to call in a bomb threat to me, right? Imagine if a student called in a bomb threat to demand higher wages for janitors at the UM! My God, Jeb Bush would be calling in the National Guard to restore order! But because we're talking about deaf kids ---not "class warfare" --- they get a pass.
Fernandes says that the real reason she's getting all this grief might be because as provost she had to make unpopular decisions like denying tenure to a faculty member and disciplining students for cheating and plagiarism (God forbid!). She claims that the faculty is exploiting the students to settle scores with her. That sounds like a more plausible reason for all this trouble than that she's not deaf enough to run a school for the deaf.
I must say that after having lived directly across the street from Gallaudet and dealing with these deaf kids at stores and at bars in the Capital Hill neighborhood for over a year, I don't really have a great deal of sympathy for their protest. If you had to put up with their loud booming music and firecrackers going off at all hours of the night and the stacks of beer bottles rolling around on your front lawn in the morning you'd understand. A lot of people might think deaf people would be quiet neighbors; I'm here to tell you they're anything but.
The students that lived in the house behind mine liked the vibrations of really loud music with a whole bunch of bass. The flashes from firecrackers exploding was something they just can't get enough, either. Although setting off firecrackers might not seem to be such a big deal, in that neighborhood in Northeast, it's sometimes difficult to tell where the fire works end and the gunfire begins. Many were the times when I hit the floor thinking someone was popping off a few rounds in my backyard.
And I don't know if anyone reading this has ever been to a bar where all the deaf kids hang out, but all I can tell you is if you see one headed towards you, you'd better get out of the way, because they'll just crash right into you and not even say 'excuse me.' My theory about this total lack of social skills and just plain rudeness is that, all their lives they've been coddled because they have a disability and the ones that get to go to Galludet in particular who are privileged feel they can get away with anything.
They're in their own little world; they get driven around DC in their own buses, they only go to places where people just like them hang out and they don't feel like they have to be polite in social situations that include the non-deaf. Maybe, if they opened up the university a little more to other deaf people who don't rely exclusively on one form of communication they might eventually find out that there's a whole other world out there that they're going to have to live in sooner or later.
So, all I want to the students at Galludet is: Grow up!