Lockdown at Gallaudet – it’s serious

Updated as of 10:30am
May 2, 2006
Gallaudet University is in lockdown, with all entrances and exits blocked by students and alumni. We‘ve been working since 2:40pm yesterday, since the announcement of Dr. Jane K. Fernandes as the 9th President of Gallaudet University. We’ve been standing outside in the DC sun, sleeping on hard asphalt in front of the DPS kiosk, trying to keep our spirits going as high as our passion, without the reinforcement of at-ready water, and of necessary nourishment. We know that alumni and the Deaf community are backing us up, but visible support is always needed, for inspiration which is a must of humanity. So therefore, we announce the unveiling of the “SUPPORT WALL” which will be located at the front gates of Gallaudet. Flyers, banners, photos of your activism, video testimonies will be shown here. Please send in all those to us@notwithoutus.org. They will serve to keep our spirits high and to remind us of the reason why we are doing this- for the BEST of OUR Gallaudet’s future and to show the BOT We ALL will NOT allow them to do this AGAIN- WE WILL NOT BE OPPRESSED, and we will be heard VISUALLY AND CLEARLY! Send ’em in!!!
Thank you from the bottoms of our hearts
True Gallaudetians, for the university is nothing without us-
alumni, fac/staff, students, community, and you know it!

We want our next Gallaudet President to be a leader who will transcend the pathological approach to deaf education and embrace bi-lingualism; reject insular, vertical leadership styles for deaf-centric, horizontal leadership models. We want a president who can address critical issues
at Gallaudet, from low academic expectations to poor community morale, in which Jane Fernandes during her 6-year tenure as Provost has demonstrated an inability to make significant progress. She has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among the faculty and never followed through with her promised implementation of the Audism Mandates, failing to recognize deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ communication rights.
The Board of Trustees has revealed itself to be oblivious to the real Spirit of Gallaudet by making their choice contrary to the Gallaudet community’s wants and needs. Faculty, st aff, students, and alumni were
constantly promised by the Presidential Search Committee that their views would be heavily weighed by feedback forms, polls, and open forums with the candidates.
And yet, when in an official GSA poll, 65.9% of graduate students found Fernandes to be unacceptable; when in an official SBG poll, 81% of undergraduate students found Fernandes to be unacceptable; and when in
an official faculty poll, 63% of the faculty body found Fernandes to be unacceptable, and after we all submitted countless feedback forms in favor of the other two candidates, and especially in opposition to Jane
Fernandes, the Board of Trustees STILL chose her.
And hence we have two demands:
1. Jane Fernandes resign as President and the search process be re-opened.
2. No reprisals for students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
Immediately following the announcement of the 9th president, Ryan Commerson stood up in front of the room and calmly encouraged students to follow him out in protest. He was immediately and physically detained by DPS officers, forced outside where he stood in between several dps officers. Several interpreters (3) were nearby and one was interpreting. One of the interpreters walked up and informed the other two that “we were told that this is not what we are here for” and were forced to leave the area, leaving Ryan without an interpreter. He was then brought to DPS headquarters in Benson Hall and Jeff Rosen was contacted for assistance. Jeff Rosen showed up, but not before DPS escorted Ryan off campus, informing him that he would be placed on PNG status.
Meanwhile, students rushed to the front of Gallaudet’s entrance and blocked the way. One student estimated approximately 200 students blocked the entrance. Media outlets showed up to interv iew students. Jeff Rosen addressed the crowd, as did Tawny Holmes– each giving a message that we must not allow our voices to go unheard.
SBG and GSA officials showed up at approximately 6pm and informed the crowd that there would be a rally the following day and the SBG/GSA presidents would meet with the BOT on thursday of the following week. Students were visibly upset, stating that they wanted action “NOW.” the crowd thinned out as students flocked around Noah Beckman, the current president-elect, arguing with him. At approximately 7pm, all that was left was a 20 person group sitting on the ramp of the front entrance to GU. They brought blankets, pizza, water, and plenty of spirit. They offered food to anyone who came by and remained vigilant in their decision to stay. During this time meetings were going on in the SBG offices.
At approximately 9pm, a large group of students flocked to the front entrance, followed by Noah Beckman, Drew Robarge (sp?), Carl Pramuk, Lindsay Dunn, and more. They came bearing a table. The table was set up and Noah addressed the crowd, expressing pride in the group for their determination. Luis Valles, Jr. then addressed the crowd, encouraging them to stop talking and start “ACTING!.”
A group of freshmen hosted an open forum, where students made clear that they want Fernandes out. They gave their reasons.
Faculty members are also clearly upset. During the senate meeting Faculty made clear that they are upset and would like a vote of no confidence to the appointment of Jane Fernandes. They plan to have a larger faculty meeting in the coming days.
Word has spread fast: there is a rally tonight at midnight at the football field. The SBG office is alive with bustling energy. At the same time meetings are taking place with Dunn and other members of groups that represent diverse students. They are working hard to come up with a consensus for demands. Once those demands are agreed on, they will be announced to the public.
It was a weird and surreal experience. I had a feeling of deja vu, but even that felt wrong. CM baldwin did a wonderful job building up the excitment for the announcement and said the decision was unanomious, but the name she announced just felt very wrong.
The minute she said, “Dr. Jane Fernandes!” about 10 students immediately got up and walked out. When Dr. Fernandes walked in, a few more people walked out. Nobody clapped. Nobody cheered.
I craned my neck to look at my students who were sitting behind me to gauge their reaction. They were stunned. Nearly everybody in the room looked stunned.
When Dr. Fernandes started signing, she was tight-lipped and talked in a monotone. Immediately after she began, Ryan Commerson, a graduate student who staged a hunger strike at Michigan School, walked up front and said, “if you don’t agree with the choice, leave!”
A few more people did indeed leave. When he walked up the aisle, h e was arrested and carted off the campus.
As Dr. Fernandes spoke, small clusters of people got up and left, a few at a time. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but all I was able to see was the terror in her eyes. She kept her face absolutely rigid. Her speech was really dreadful, because nothing sank in. She captured very few people’s attention, and people kept on either looking around or getting up to leave.
Fortunately, I saw Adam Stone furiously taking notes, so he is bound to give a good summary of what was said in Dr. Fernandes’ speech on deafdc.com. When Dr. Fernandes finished her speech, the remaining audience (which was about 1/3 of what it was at the start) gave her a very half-hearted applause. The tense smile on Dr. Fernandes’ face disappeared quickly and she made a beeline to the door stage left. No waving to the audience. It looked like she had dogs at her heels.
It was horrible. The security in the room was very thick, which showed t hey knew they would not receive a warm reception. It was just a very sad shame – it was supposed to be a moment of celebration, not anger.
Professors and staff I spoke to were so dispirited by the announcement. However, they kept on looking around to make sure nobody could see what their comments – certainly not an environment for free-thinking and protected dissent.
As I walked out, many continued to look dazed. I was cutting it very
close, as I had a 3:30 class at George Washington University – and it
was already 2:50. When I got to the mall, I was astounded (but maybe I
shouldn’t have been surprised) to see a huge crowd gathered there. I
later learned there was a fire alarm at sau, so it forced everybody out
of the building.
Three students (Noah, the new SBG president, Robert McConnell – one of my students, and a much older man) were on a podium, calling out for a representative for the graduate students and a female student leader , eventually hollering for Tara Holcomb. I saw Bren walking around the fringe of the crowd and disappearing into sau.
Someone (I think Tawny Holmes, the SBG prez from 2004 2005) urged the
students on the podium to send the students to the front gates to stage a sit-in. Everyone moved there. One of my students drove his SUV to the gate and blocked it. Tawny popped her head through the SUV’s sun roof and started leading students to chant “better president now” I had to start laughing… Deja vu, but not so deja vu. Present SBG and GSA leaders met while Tawny continued to whip up the crowds. They were trying to figure out their message. When they agreed, Noah got up on the front gate post and asked the crowd if they agreed with the decision. A sea of hands in air, No! Anthony Mowl, last year’s Buff and Blue editor, told the crowd that the message must
be unified.
I looked at time and gasped – 3:15!! I was late to my class and I was
scheduled to give a presentation! When I looked up, I saw David King and other BDSU and ASA leaders weave their way to the front, and I knew I had to stick around for at least a few more minutes.
There was a heated exchange between these students and Dana Sipek and a
friend of hers whom I didn’t recognize. I didn’t catch what was being said, and it was decided to give them some platform time. In the meantime, handlettered and painted signs popped out of nowhere. A student used a marker to write ‘better president now!” on his plain white tshirt.
I really had to get to GWU, as it was now 3:30. As I was walking off the campus, I passed one of my students and he was signing to his friend, “exams must be cancelled!” I told him, “Oh no! Exams will stil be on!” He looked at me with murderous eyes 🙂
The last I heard, was that the rally ran out of steam, and student leaders are meeting now trying to figure out their next steps.
Ps. I know this is lengthy, but I wanted to capture everything that’s still in my memory, and I thought you would be my audience 🙂
Banners set up front of campus

Students start to make posters right away

Ryan Commerson speaks to the crowd

Car blocks the gate. Tawny Holmes gives a speech

Protests Continue Over New Gallaudet President

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