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Others Weigh In on Gallaudet Protests

A faculty member and former student at Gallaudet offer their opinions on the current protests.

H-Dirksen Bauman is a professor of deaf studies at Gallaudet. He’s a hearing person who got into deaf education when he landed his first teaching job at a school for the deaf. After falling in love with the lyrical beauty of sign language, he now teaches classes about poetry and literature composed entirely in American Sign Language. He's torn about the current protest and compares it to the 1988 demonstrations, called "Deaf President Now" for the rallying cry of that time.


"This is, I think, probably the most difficult time that this university has faced. It’s far more difficult than "Deaf President Now," because the issues with "Deaf President Now" were clear-cut – it was either hearing or deaf leadership. The entire United States and actually the entire world rallied behind Gallaudet. It was a great news story that everyone could agree with. [But now] this is a very complicated time. The issues around it can’t be boiled down to simple matters of identity, can’t be boiled down to simple matters of “not deaf enough."

"I think "Deaf President Now" in some ways is over-emphasized in deaf history, because people began to think that [it] has solved our problems –- we have a deaf president -– when the issues are actually much deeper … [Deaf President Now] only went so far and didn’t come down to the level of issues relating to sign language use on campus, relating to issues of deaf equality."

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl was one of the four student leaders who led the "Deaf President Now" protests in 1988. Those events forever linked Bourne-Firl with I. King Jordan, who became the university’s historic first deaf president. The two remained friends and allies, but have split over the recent controversy over the naming of Jane Fernandes, a Gallaudet administrator, to take over from Jordan when he retires at the end of this year.


"Once he became president, then he became a spokesperson for the deaf community and also for civil rights for deaf people. He became the icon. All over the world, everyone kind of looked up to him. In awe of him. He was a wonderful role model for many, many, many years for many people all over the world. I think he’s lost his momentum. Now, he’s no longer a civil rights leader for the deaf community."

"I wrote him a letter this summer. I hand-wrote letters. I begged him to separate himself, to separate himself from that [his support of Jane Fernandes], to preserve his legacy.... I saw him at a conference in the summer. He said, "'I disagree with you.'"

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Erika Engelhaupt
Joseph Shapiro
Joseph Shapiro is a NPR News Investigations correspondent.