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May 9, 2006

RIT students witness Gallaudet controversy

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - May 9, 2006

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(May 9, 2006) — Classes and final exams have ended, the cafeteria and dorms have closed on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington. About 300 students are expected to graduate in a ceremony there on Friday.

But dozens of student protesters remain on campus, upset at last week's announcement that Jane Fernandes will become Gallaudet's president in January.

"It's still happening," said Mercy Coogan, director of public relations for the university, attended by more than 1,700 deaf and hard-of-hearing students. "They're not backing down. And she's not backing down, either."

The protesters were joined Saturday morning by several students from Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, who drove all night to see for themselves the issues involved.

"I support the protest. I support the cause," said Lizzie Sorkin, 24, NTID student president.

Fernandes believes opponents think she is "not deaf enough," not culturally deaf or raised with sign language. Others say she is not sensitive to students' needs.

"Her deafness and upbringing is not the issue at all. The presidential search committee and process are flawed and need to be re-examined," said Clayton Ide, 23, of Pittsford, who attended Gallaudet last year before transferring to RIT.

"The board of trustees didn't take into consideration faculty, staff and student input. The real issue at hand is the whole process and the lack of input from the deaf community," Ide said.

Fernandes has met with students in a daily forum to answer their questions.

"I found the forum to be very educational regarding the whole situation," said David Spiecker, 20, of Henrietta. "It is my opinion after listening to the forum that both sides were at fault in one way or another. The students basically were prejudiced against Jane and therefore wouldn't accept any answer out of Jane unless it was self-incriminating."

Students asked Fernandes why, if she was so confident she was the best choice for president, she wouldn't agree to redo the search process.

"People are concerned and upset. That was the norm," Sorkin said of the forum she saw Saturday. "It didn't get out of hand. There was a huge amount of respect, but questions really targeted her."

Students continue to camp in sleeping bags on the campus.

"By far, it was an enriching experience," Spiecker said. "The trip to Gallaudet was not a waste of time at all. I find it really interesting because both sides had reacted to the issue so quickly. Some mistakes were made in the beginning, and now they're figuring out how to respond to the situation better."