Not “Deaf Enough” – In the news today

Actually, it was in the news yesterday, read the article here.

Gallaudet University, the nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf, has a new "president-elect". Jane K. Fernandes is scheduled to take on the office of president of the university in January. There's a hitch - the rest of the faculty has already taken a vote of "no-confidence" and students have been protesting her presidency for a week.

Her "crime"? Not being "deaf enough".

Last semester I wrote a research paper on the "Psychology of Deafness" and included a little bit about the deaf culture.

I wrote, "A dear friend has a father and a stepmother who are both profoundly deaf. His dad began losing his hearing early in life and his stepmother lost her hearing totally as the result of an illness. They relate how they have been included in social events for Deaf people, but then are excluded and snubbed when it becomes known that they both have verbal skills and neither one of them were born deaf."

It's the difference between being deaf (not being able to hear) and being Deaf (part of the deaf culture).

Fernandes has been totally deaf since birth - but her parents are hearing. She grew up in a hearing, speaking household and reads lips and speaks, rather than sign. She didn't learn to sign until she was 23 years old and signs fluently.

One of the professors said, "She does not represent truly our deaf community..."

Fernandes says that there is a "perfect Deaf person." This "perfect deaf person" is born deaf and is born to deaf parents. The perfect deaf person grows up signing and does not speak. The perfect deaf person attends deaf school, marries another deaf person and has deaf babies. This does not describe Fernandes.

Protesters say that Fernandes is not respected on campus and cannot speak for the majority of its students. One student says that, "She has not won us over in six years..."

Bigotry rarely flows in one direction and the bias by the "Deaf" toward the merely "deaf" is well documented. But this is more than bias.

If the university board caves in to the protesters, this would be outright discrimination - not for being impaired; there is the same level of impairment - but for not being "Deaf", but rather being merely "deaf".

It's a cultural thing...

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6 thoughts on “Not “Deaf Enough” – In the news today

  1. Yes, it is indeed a cultural thing, no more and no less than other cultures to celebrate.

    Unfortunately, the newspapers have not been forthcoming on other, more important details on why the students are protesting. The issue is not about being "Deaf enough" because the reporter has interviewed the President-Elect and not the leaders of the protesting coalition. The fact that President Jordan has cut off interpreting services from the protesters to disallow reporters from interviewing more than a few of them makes the cause more misunderstood.

    First, it was a flawed presidential selection process because President Jordan and Provost Fernandes had a good relationship with the Board of Trustees, which selects the president. The protesters are not asking to select the other Deaf finalist that they prefer. Instead, they are demanding that the entire presidential search be restarted.

    Secondly, the quality of education, measured by the federal government, has declined during Fernandes' tenure as provost, indicating in part that she, among other administrators, is not a competent leader.

    Thirdly, nine faculty members were of the same background as Fernandes, not going to deaf school or learning ASL until late in life, have also opposed Fernandes because they believed that the issues were a flawed search process and ineffective leadership.

    The journalist also did not describe the make-ups of the protesters, which are more diverse than even the administrators of Gallaudet.

    Please check Elisa's blog for her take. Particularly this post that refutes Fernandes' perception of the protesters as thinking that she is not "deaf enough." (Scroll down to the second letter, where you can see a copy of the letter by the nine faculty members upset over Fernandes' belief that this was a form of discrimination rather than corruption and favoritism.)

    Unfortunately, you may be right in that the Board of Trustees may not be able to rescind Fernandes from the position because it is unprecedented.

    Sorry for the long post, but I felt I must enlighten people who are being misled by the Washington Post article.

  2. 🙂

    I only wish the mainstream media would take the time to listen to both sides rather than use soundbites, "is she deaf enough?"

  3. The thing is that I know a couple who are "not deaf enough" and who are basically shunned. I know it happens and maybe that makes some more senstive than others.

    At any rate, I'm planning on calling the Washington Post tomorrow and putting in a word to go interview protesters again (and bring their own interpreter this time).

  4. Probably right. Some people do discriminate because of not being "deaf enough." And some did discriminate initially about being "deaf enough" because otherwise Fernandes wouldn't have been able to use it against the protesters.

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