Keep Gally Safe

Gallaudet University is filled with diverse people like a rainbow. Black students, Jewish students, Hispanic students, LGBTQA students, Muslim students, international students, Deaf students, hard of hearing students, DeafBlind students, CODAs, people with disabilities, hearing students, and many more all colors the rainbow. The array of such diverse students brightens and enriches the community, but at the same time it threatens the identities and the well-being of an individual when there is a lack of cultural competence, tolerance, or awareness. The mentioned notions have challenged the sense of safety on campus several times. So how does one feel safe at Gally, where every student considers it to be their second home?

In the fall semester of 2017, the community was faced with high racial tensions. President Bobbi Cordano appointed Dean Dwight Benedict as Vice President of Student Affairs and Community Engagement position without community’s input. Her main concern was to address the pressing complaints about the dorms and facilities. She felt that Dwight was an appropriate person to take up the responsibility. However, Dwight’s alleged negative reputation of being a racist was unfavorable by majority of the students. Fortunately, President Bobbi Cordano listened to the community wholeheartedly. Observing Bobbi’s leadership style, it is noted that her actions had proved she has the welfare and safety of the students at the top of her agenda. In a community email, and video statement referring to her decision about Dean Dwight Benedict to the community, she states:
“To support the community in moving forward, I have decided to put this position on hold. This hold will and already has created space for us to engage in a process about what is in the best interests of our community.”

After involving the students regarding the matter, she rescinded her decision. Her exemplary leadership demonstrates that creating a safe community can be successful if we listen to every student, staff, and alumni. Every member of the Gallaudet community’s input is and should be equally valued.

In the Spring semester of 2017, the LGBTQA community was in skeptic about their safety because someone kept on removing gender neutral bathroom signs. This fear was exacerbated by the heinous hate crimes in Charlottesville. It led people to wonder if the same acts of hate will be mimicked on our campus. When beliefs are different from your own, how can one refrain from crossing the line of hatred because someone disagree with your beliefs? The answers are unclear because everyone wants a sense of validation, and when one’s sense of self is perceived as threatened, people sometimes take desperate actions. We do not have to agree with people, but we must respect human dignity and human life in order to enhance the safety of the Gallaudet community for everyone.

It is also important to consider about the accessibility of the safety of the students who have physical challenges and mental health challenges that may not be conductive to the immediate environment. Community members who experience such challenges, may include, but are not limited to people in wheelchairs, DeafBlind students, people who have a mental health diagnosis, and the various non-visible disabilities. An anonymous student who has bipolar, received support from Office of Students With Disabilities, OSWD. The person says, “I would have dropped out of school again without the services of OSWD, the professors are very understanding and nonjudgmental, they want me to succeed.” As awareness of the various disabilities grows, hopefully obstacles will eventually become obsolete. OSWD is always ready to address the students’ concerns, to minimize any barriers for students with disabilities. It is also the community’s responsibility to be patient, and understanding of students with different needs to ensure that everyone can thrive in their academic environment and beyond.

There have also been frequent complaints in regards to a lack of People of Color, POC, in administrative positions and professors. Without role models for the POC, it can be a daunting place to navigate because there are gaps in understanding due to cultural incompetence even with the most well intended faculty and staff. Given the current political climate, the students need role models so they may have mentors and someone they can turn to for support without feeling they have to constantly adapt to the dominant culture. Without role models, it is difficult for one to have a sense of belonging. Fortunately, the issue is finally being addressed. Dr. Elavie Ndura, the Vice President of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion sent out an email to the community announcing the institutional equity, diversity and inclusion strategic plan. In the email, she states:
“The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion begins the 2018 spring semester with a robust six-pillar framework of inclusive excellence. The six pillars are: (1) A Safe and Welcoming Community; (2) Equitable Opportunities and Outcomes; (3) Strategic Partnerships; (4) Intercultural Competency; (5) Organizational Resources; and (6) Collaborative Leadership and Shared Accountability.”
The restructuring of an institution will take time, tenacity, and patience from everyone in the community. With the new plan in place, there is now hope.

These are just a few of the safety concerns that have been addressed. The common theme among all of these situations is a sense of wanting to belong, feeling safe, and able to freely navigate in one’s environment. This holds true for all safety concerns anywhere you attend frequent. Each member of the Gally community has a responsibility to uphold the values of Gallaudet University. In the aforementioned statement by President Bobbi, she emphasized, “The freedom of expression and leadership exhibited by our students, alumni, and other community members is very much a core value of Gallaudet.” Also, SBG President, Jehanne McCullough, via Messenger assured me, “SBG is committed to working with students and making sure Gallaudet is a safe place for everyone.”
When the clouds of misunderstandings diminish, the only thing left will be a rainbow shining with a great big pot of gold at the end with everyone gaining from the riches of diversity and everyone feeling safe at Gally.

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