367: Protest History TwoMonday, October 16th, 2006: Faculty and teachers at Gallaudet issued a vote of No Confidence in the Gallaudet administration. 138 (out of 168) voted they had no confidence in the administration. 76% of all eligible University faculty were present. This is a vote of 82%, compared with 64% back in May. Meanwhile, the protests continue, with more than 1,000 faculty, teachers, students and alumni at the gates, and emotions high after 135 of these people were arrested on Friday, October 13th. How did it get this far? I will try my best to explain, using links to blogs and news articles, the journey from April, 2006 to today – although you could say the journey really began in 1988. See the first part of this series!
When we left off, the Tent City of Gallaudet had closed, and emotions were confused around the country. But the Administration, despite being on vacation, had continued the work of trying to convince the world the protest was about nothing. Over the summer the National Association of the Deaf planned a conference: at this conference, faculty and staff from Gallaudet were forced to go through training in representing the administration, ordered to speak the opinions of their overseers, and even had to distribute a DVD listing Jane Fernandes' accomplishments. Deaf Bloggers went to NAD to counter the propoganda. It turned into a political, verbal war - the kind that happen between activists that feel strongly about issues. This war continued over the summer, as people all over the country began talking about audism and deafhood. Moreover, activism seemed to disappear over the summer, although the administration continued working; blogger RidorLive went so far as to say:
FSSA Is Dead: As of now, I regret to let you know that the FSSA is dead or in state of hibernation. They seemed unable to organize anything at this point. Even with the Board Retreat at Hyatt-Dulles in Herndon, Virginia — I was told that nobody showed up. It is typical of I. King Jordan to organize things like this during the summertimes to keep the Board from interacting with the staff, faculty and students at all.Returning to the campus, students discovered that new rules about freedom of speech and expression had been issued which seemed to specifically ban such types of protest as had been going on in May (see first part.) These rules were so strict that a teacher from Kent State wrote in to encourage I. King Jordan to relieve the pressure (to the person who commented on my last blog that "this is like Kent State" - I had no idea about this at the time!) These new rules were objected to by the Gallaudet University Faculty, Student, Staff and Alumni Association, with one group of teachers saying:
It is my hope that the students will be able to instigate this in the fall semester and do something about the Axis of Evil. It is necessary to improve Gallaudet with a clean slate. With them on the board, Gallaudet is going down and down and down.
Faculty resistance to the “Guidelines” stemmed from the perception that the rules are so numerous, specific, and complicated as to make it virtually impossible to obtain permission to demonstrate or post signs. Furthermore, the rules are heavy-handed, rigid, and created without participation of the Faculty. Finally, the rules exacerbate the current climate of fear on campus.
Back at the University, students immediately demonstrated against Audism, amid what seemed like a heightened number of attacks on Deaf people nationwide. While these attacks had nothing to do with the Gallaudet situation, they exacerbated a feeling of fear and a need for coalition.
On the 29th of August the Gallaudet Student Body Government met again to discuss the situation at Elstad Auditiorium on campus. Simultaneously many faculty wrote letters to indicate their dissent and desire to reopen the search process for a new President; interviews began with those formerly in the running. Faculty seemed to want to join together, but were confused about their ability to even meet with each other under the new guidelines:
The declaration that we do not have effective administrative leadership on campus was met with applause. We have no control over what the Board hears about this meeting because we have no true, meaningful opportunity for dialogue.
Two professors pointed out that everyone attending the meeting could be fired for insubordination because Faculty Governance had not applied for a permit to meet and express opinions, as currently required by the President’s 28 June “Guidelines” memo.
They also mentioned in that letter their frustration that not all of the Board of Trustees knew sign language, and that interpreters had to be used every time they communicated with the University Administration. Later, a letter from the Clerc Center which Fernandes had previously administrated showed that she had employed similar Faculty-organization busting tactics and similarly chose not to listen to that faculty.
On the 20th of September, the Gallaudet Student Body Government issued a vote of No Confidence in Fernandes. Some student leaders emerged; most had been too afraid to come forward in the past. These student leaders were: Ryan Commerson, Tara Holcomb, LaToya Plummer, Chris Corrigan, Delia Lozano-Martinez and Leah Katz-Hernandez.
On the 25th of September, a small group of Administration supporters issued a letter indicating they felt this was a battle between "purebloods" and "mudbloods" on campus. This seemed to continue the divisive work of the University President, who was continually saying "They think I'm not Deaf enough," pounding a meme home until it hurt. What does this theme even mean? Is it true? Who knows - that particular group never put forth definitions of any of these terms, but allowed people's imaginations to work, and much like the effects similar divisive comments have in Women's and African-American and Gay and Lesbian movements, (You're not gay enough/black enough/feminist enough) imagination can divide. This comparison fractured the community further and as Allison Kaftan has stated on her blog:
So now on top of discrimination and ignorance, we’ve just had another huge battle handed to us, courtesy of Dr. Jordan, Mercy Coogan, Dr. Fernandes, NBC, ABC, FOX, NPR, the Washington Post, CNN, and a whole bunch of other entities that have done us the favor of disseminating that wonderful phrase.
That battle will last us for years: the perception that there is a standard against which people can measure to find out whether they’re deaf enough. Decades of cultural work will have to be done.
Later, it was revealed by Ridorlive.com that one member of the Administration, Mercy Coogan, had been posting supportive articles about the administration under the nom de plume Aunt Sophie. The propaganda barrage was immense, and the climate of fear heavy.
Rumors began to fly about the re-establishment of the Tent City that had draped the campus in May. On October 1st, early in the morning, the Tent City was reestablished on the lawn by a small number of faculty and students who defied the strict rules on "freedom of expression." A few hours later, staff at the University were ordered to put fertilizer on the grounds. Allegations were made but never proven that this was an attempt to nip the protest in the bud, so to speak. Protestors pointed out that it was unusual to spread fertilizer on Monday morning when the campus had just reopened. Administration supporters pointed out it was important to keep Kendal Green, green. It was equally possible that a third party or uninterested student who simply wanted to make trouble had made the call; at this point blood seemed hot on both sides, so the issue was used as a two-edged sword. The Tent City was re-convened the next day. Protest leaders were informed that their City was illegal:
After the rally, SBG leaders met with Carl Pramuk and the SBG advisor. SBG leaders were told that if tent city is still up after 11:00 pm this evening, the contract between SBG and the Business Office would be torn up and Tent City would be banned the rest of this week.
On October 4th, 300 students walked out of classes and went to I King Jordan's office to speak with him. This was unannounced and Jordan was having a private discussion with an unidentified individual, and he slammed the door on protestors. At the same time teachers and faculty issued a statement requesting that the University reopen the discussion on the issues as had been promised in May:
Members of the Board of Trustees are the stewards of our university. Your discussions during this first week of October will make history at Gallaudet University and do much to determine its future path and the well being of its community. The Gallaudet community is looking for your leadership in forging a path towards excellence we can be proud of.This diplomatic letter had no effect. On October 5th the Student Body Government met with the Board of Trustees, which told them nothing could be done and that they were in a stalemate. That Friday night was a deadline the SBG had announced for discussions. At the appointed time students lined up outside of the Gallaudet Conference Center where the President was having a celebration of his work at the University. At 10 PM protestors asked if there was a response. They were told that the Board and President had no time to speak to them that night. In response to these refusals to communicate, students decided to "lockdown" the main academic building at the University, known as HMB, short for Hall Memorial Building. This was a controversial move that caused furor all over the country.
We ask that you reconsider your position and re-engage the community as you promised during those days in May.
The next day students awoke to find Campus Security, not talking to them, but simply making a raid:
At 8 a.m. this morning, as students were sleeping in the SBG office, on the first floor of the already locked down HMB, officers from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) stormed in. Students were terrified, people were running everywhere, screaming. DPS started pushing and hitting students and threatening to spray mace. Some people were assaulted. Students who had been peacefully asleep, and abruptly awoken, were not resisting. We did nothing. The attack from DPS came totally unprovoked.Indeed, these campus officers could NOT speak to the students: there's a very short list of people in that organization who know any sign language whatsoever. Supportive tent cities began to pop up all over the world. Bomb threats were called in and this was blamed on students by the Administration, although why students would want to evacuate the building they were occupying was never explained. The incident raised emotions all over the country - indeed the world, as parents, faculty, and alumni sent in letters to the Administration appealing for a solution. The Administration encouraged the University to restore trust. Faculty were offered five minutes to speak to the Board of Trustees.
Once DPS officers left and we were able to collect ourselves together and survey the damage, we found several students had been hurt. We had been physically assaulted by the Gallaudet University Department of Public Safety. I cannot explain the state of mind we are in at this moment. We are shocked, extremely upset, and hurt bodily and emotionally.
Monday, October 9th, the SBG President, Noah Beckman, worked on and negotiated with University Administration to produce a list of several demands. Tensions and hope were high. The original demands for the reopening of the search process remained; there were also additional demands for the creation of protest-safe zones and the lifting of some restrictions outlined in the Freedom of Expression guidelines issued in June. The racism students alleged infiltrated the original search process was also brought up again, a serious issue for many students. Eventually the students reduced all their requirements to one single need:
The students’ single resolution is reasonable. The student leaders agree to cease lockdown of the Hall Memorial Building if the President agrees to provide 24/7 protest safe zones and to agree to continue the negotiation process to address other issues. While there seems to be a stated University goal towards action to open the classroom building, to place a high value on education, and to respect the educational needs of students both in the protest and those who are not, President Jordan’s actions make it clear this is not his intention. Punishing the students seems to take precedence.
The request was denied and none of the other concerns were dealt with; the SBG responded with a letter explaining their efforts and frustrations, and indicating the lockdown would continue. Why was this one resolution so important? Perhaps because the students demanded at least the right to express their concerns.
At this point the Gallaudet football team made a statement. This champion team led by the famous Coach Ed Hottle, had had an incomparable 2-year winning streak. While these negotiations were going on they had finally lost their first game. Realizing that the prohibition against joining the protest was pointless if they were so freaked out about it they couldn't play football ANYWAY, they decided to throw their massive weight in with the protestors.
At this point on Tuesday, October 10th, Noah Beckman was still in the office with Jordan. It is not clear if he had been able to convey that the SBG's requests were denied, but with the increase in number that came with the addition of the team (and the mental weight of knowing that the looked-up to members of this important team had made a commitment to the struggle) the decision was made to lock down the campus as well as the HMB. This lockdown included the Clerc Center, although students were able to leave and return to campus, a fact later denied by University administration (although supported by teachers at the institution themselves.) Students were angered that they were being represented as helpless children. When the campus lockdown happened this night, there were several problems communicating with the Media. The Media did not bring any sign language interpreters themselves; and according to this statement by one member of Gallaudet's Interpreting Services, the University administration stopped paying for interpreters. (Later there were reports of firings within GIS for the revelation of this information.) Students were asking for donations, but in the meantime, several days passed before they began getting part of their message across.
On Wednesday, October 11th the campus was locked down. News about the protest began to trickle through to the media. Faculty issued statements supporting the right to freedom of expression. Supportive protests continued in cities all over the world, including Los Angeles. University Faculty requested the resignation of Fernandes in light of her inability to resolve the crisis.
On Thursday, October 12th, the lockdown continued. Parents came together to write a letter supporting the protest, angered that the campus police could not communicate with the students.
On Friday, October 13th, 2006, what some are now calling "Black Friday," 135 teachers, students and faculty were arrested for refusing to move from the gates and allow the campus to open. During these arrests, the 7th of which was Tim Rarus, one of the leaders of Deaf President Now, huge spotlights were used to blind Deaf students:
There's a bright light so they can't see the interpreters.Read the liveblog of the arrests here!
They blinding the students sitting
It's a spotlight (mz) (from a liveblogger during the protest
And on Saturday, October 14th, 1000 were protesting at the front gate. At this point, 45 Tent Cities of support are growing around America.
Sunday, October 15th saw this amazing letter from mental health professionals in the Deaf community who I personally greatly respect.
On Monday, October 16th, the faculty of Gallaudet issued the vote of 'no confidence' described in the first paragraph of this post. On Tuesday, October 17th Jordan issued a letter (note the date on his own letter is wrong, and it's only four days since Black Friday) with four statements: that the search process for the Gallaudet Presidency was indeed diverse, that Fernandes deserves the opportunity to try the University out (like a new car, as if they haven't seen her work for the past ten years!), that students will be punished because they have broken a code he basically rewrote over the summer in order to, well, punish them, and that this is nothing like the Gallaudet Protest. To this last he is entirely wrong. The Gallaudet Protest in 1988 was about oppression from hearing people who were acting as Gatekeepers to the Deaf Community. In 2006, we have the same problem: it is like there are two bubbles, touching each other, and Jordan and Fernandes stand blocking the flat surface where the bubbles touch. One bubble is the Deaf community. The other bubble? America.
At this point all is stalemate. Europe sends its love, and there will be rallies today in support of the protest. The Board of Trustees has split on the issue. Protestors still lie outside the gates. Homecoming has been cancelled. Faculty appear disgusted with the inept handling and letters of the administration (more on that in the future.) The administration seem completely oblivious to the concerns of the Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Association. Kenneth Berrigan is on a hunger strike. And as yet nobody has been able to explain why to many hearing people's satisfaction - although I'll attempt to, in my next post. Jane Fernandes has used the racist comment that we're judging her based on whether she's Deaf enough. She just gave an interview to the Washington Post on the radio. It wasn't captioned. (Transcript here.) More today as events develop, and an analysis of what's happening in the community because of this protest.