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October 24, 2006

Encampment at NTID backs Gallaudet protest

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Oct 24, 2006

Student turnout small but passion is strong

Lara Becker Liu
Staff writer

(October 24, 2006) — A smattering of students, in a show of solidarity with their peers at Gallaudet University, braved bitter winds and threatening skies Monday to set up a "tent city" on the front lawn of Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, where they camped out in protest of the hiring of Gallaudet's incoming president.

But the cold weather, conflicting class schedules and apparently lukewarm interest on the part of NTID students conspired to generate scant turnout. The city, such as it was, comprised five tents as of 8 p.m.

Sitting cross-legged before them and wrapped in sleeping bags, tent city organizers Michelle Gerson and Clayton Ide were hopeful that more people — possibly as many as 30 — would show up later.

The students, through an interpreter, said they were lending their voices to the ongoing debate over the hiring of Jane K. Fernandes because, Ide said, "we feel the process was flawed." She "looked good on paper," but, he said, as provost she did not listen to concerns, and the fact that she hasn't engaged protesters in meaningful conversation is further proof of her inability to relate to students. The issues are not, he and Gerson said, limited to the fact that Fernandes is not a native signer.

"Her background and her knowledge was not enough," said Gerson, 22, of Rutherford, N.J. "She's oral. She didn't go to a deaf institute. We just don't feel she understands the needs of the deaf people."

Gallaudet, the nation's only liberal arts college for the deaf and hard of hearing, has been largely paralyzed by student-led demonstrations against Fernandes. Homecoming was canceled, and protesters last week marched on Capitol Hill.

Fernandes has said she has become a lightning rod in the larger debate over how to maintain deaf culture as technology and educational changes increase the options available for the deaf. As someone who grew up speaking but identifies herself as a deaf woman, Fernandes has said she feels strongly about making Gallaudet more inclusive. She has refused to resign, despite waning support.

The fervor surrounding Fernandes, who is scheduled to become president Jan. 1, apparently has not gripped NTID, where the student government has adopted a neutral stance on the issue. But Ide and Gerson, both seniors and professional technical communications majors, are passionate.

Gerson spoke of how important it is to be able to voice her opinion and know that RIT President Albert Simone will listen. "At Gallaudet," she said, "that's not happening."

Ide, who joined the protesters in Washington this weekend, said: "I think Gallaudet needs to know that some of us here — not all of us — but some of us are in support of them."

© 2006, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle