This is Gallaudet

The recent article “Who is Gallaudet,” written by Elena Ruiz, recently created some discord among different groups of students and faculty at Gallaudet University.  Is Gallaudet becoming “hearing-ized” with the growing surge of hearing, new-signing, and oral students, as Ruiz claimed in her recent column?

“And what is ‘hearing-ized?’ The word ‘hearing’ exists because there are deaf people. Deafness defines hearing,” Deaf Studies Instructor Robert Sirvage said. “And is the whole concept of deafness so important, or is it the language? We need to separate the language and identity issue.”

First of all, who is Gallaudet? English Professor Christopher Heuer suggested that “[t]he answer is this:  all of us. People always are what and where they are. There are oral deaf, deaf from deaf families, deaf from hearing families, children of deaf adults (CODAs), hearing students, new signers — you name it — at Gallaudet. They make the deaf community at Gallaudet. The problem is the lack of acceptance on campus.”

Sara Malkowski, a third year CODA student, pointed out that “even some hearing people who sign well do not accept other hearing people who are inept at signing.”

The University’s Expectations

President Alan Hurwitz clarified Gallaudet’s vision in an e-mail to the campus community. “We all know and accept that Gallaudet is a bilingual university. Communication here happens through American Sign Language (ASL) and English. While the expectation that everyone on campus becomes fluent in both languages within a reasonable amount of time, the reality is that some people, however diligent, take longer to master one or the other language.”

“Students choose Gallaudet because they want to learn in a bilingual environment. Hearing students, as well as those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing but new to sign language, come here to get a first-class education and immerse themselves in ASL and deaf culture. Their presence adds to the rich diversity of our community and underscores the high value we all put on preserving Gallaudet’s unique heritage.”

“Everyone on campus — no matter his or her signing skill level — should make every effort to communicate in sign language when in public areas on campus. And no, this is not about stifling speech or marginalizing those whose signing skills are undeveloped. Rather, it’s about respect, courtesy, tradition and harmony.”

Also, all hearing undergraduate students at Gallaudet are required to read, understand, and sign the Language policy. The policy, quoted in full, is reprinted below:

Gallaudet University is a bi-lingual university, and with that, the language policy of the Gallaudet is that ASL is to be used at all times when you are in and around the department. (Faculty, staff, and students are strongly encouraged to use ASL at all times on campus.) This includes prior to and after class, and in the classrooms, labs, hallways, elevator, department library, etc. We ask this not only because of the respect it shows, but also because of the messages sent when someone who can sign chooses not to when they are in the department and at the University. We also ask this of you because of the impact it has on your development, both in terms of language and cultural understanding. For the same reasons, we also ask that you do not use simultaneous communication. (There may be times in courses when instructors require the use of spoken English, i.e., an interpretation.) We appreciate your mindfulness of this policy and what it represents.

Sirvage, who teaches Deaf Space, Dynamics of Oppression, and Disability Studies at Gallaudet, said “You don’t have to be an Englishman to use English. Deaf people need to let go of the concept that only they own ASL and welcome anyone to learn ASL.”

However, there is no clear language policy for oral and graduate-level students, along with the rest of the Gallaudet community.

The Hearing Perspective

“I believe that the hearing students here at Gallaudet now have a better understanding of what it is like to be deaf, in the sense of understanding what it feels like to be a minority group in a large majority group. At Gallaudet University, hearing students have become a minority on campus,” Malkowski said. It is not always easy being hearing at Gallaudet. They experience exclusion as well.

“Being a CODA, I am a minority in both the deaf and hearing communities and I still struggle from time to time adjusting in both communities. I believe that as a student at Gallaudet, I have a responsibility to take my negative experiences and find ways to make them positive experiences for others.”

Malkowski founded the Student Coalition to serve as a peer-to-peer support group for Gallaudet students to discuss ongoing issues on campus and to come up with solutions. Originally founded for the hearing students and intended to help them maintain their hearing identity and aid their assimilation into the deaf community with ease, the Student Coalition is now open to everyone on campus, regardless of their signing or hearing levels.

“I don’t think the students understand how competitive the HUG and the Interpreting programs are. When applying to Gallaudet my first time in 2003 I was not accepted; they only accepted five students. It wasn’t until I applied again in 2008 that I was accepted, being one of 17 hearing students,” Malkowski said.

However, “Gallaudet should not accept any more hearing students if Gallaudet cannot give them support as a minority group on campus,” said Malkowski.

The Solutions

Gallaudet currently has 77 hearing undergraduate students and 223 hearing graduate students, compared to 58 undergraduate students and 223 graduate students from last year.* The university is also accepting many more new signers (or oral) that are hard-of-hearing or deaf. In a changing world of education and cultures, Gallaudet is going through a transition in learning how to welcome a more diverse group of students.

As Sirvage pointed out, “The recruitment office uses different strategies to get diverse students, but the different strategies send different messages. When students arrive at Gallaudet, they all have different expectations. The deaf students expect everyone to know ASL, and some of the other lonely students expect acceptance regardless of their signing abilities. There, we have formations of cliques and everyone becoming so bitter about that — because their expected ‘promises’ are broken.”

“The biggest problem on campus is that everyone is waiting for someone to solve the problems. Students do not come together long enough to pressure for change. The administration and the faculty don’t always know what the students’ needs are, especially when students do not stay as long as the administration and faculty do,” Heuer said. “The hearing people are not the problem, the lack of cooperation is. It is time for change.”

Heuer stated that “there is one specific attitude that needs to change. If a non-signer is willing to learn sign, hands off! Let them learn in freedom. Help them. Include them. Make them a part of the community pride. If we exclude them, where else will they learn sign? How can we expect them to sign if we never interact with them?”

“ASL is an official language like English, and it cannot be mastered overnight. We can’t force everyone to sign outside of the academic buildings and in private, like the dorms and the cafeterias.  Imagine telling deaf people at a hearing school (or even oral schools back in the days) that they could not use their native language, sign language, to communicate. Would they like that? No. Now imagine telling hearing people not to talk — which is their native mode of communication — outside of the classroom,” said a hard-of-hearing student who chose to stay anonymous.

“It is just a matter of hearing and deaf people respecting each other’s language. We want to use the beautiful benefits of ASL to discuss philosophy, biology, and even Shakespeare — that is Gallaudet’s niche. Why do we even mention deafness or hard-of-hearing people in our mission statement? That establishes classifications in hearing levels when it doesn’t even matter in our ASL environment.  Our emphasis should be on bilingualism,” Sirvage continued.

“There needs to be an establishment of zones throughout campus where people are allowed to use whatever language they feel comfortable communicating in,” said Malkowski. “The more students feel comfortable and less stressed on campus, the more likely they will be capable of picking up sign language in academic environments and from other peers.”

“Gallaudet administration must be clear on the functions of public spaces. Is the cafeteria a place to rest and unwind or a place to exchange information?” Sirvage asked. “There must be clear policy expectations to ensure that hearing students, as well as oral and hard of hearing students, to immerse appropriately in signing environment. There have to be resources and support systems — students can’t immerse completely in just 6 weeks.”

Heuer is looking forward to having different forums and discussions on the collaboration between the different groups within the deaf community. “It will be healthy when the different groups of students, faculty, and staff come together to form a resolution. We can rebuild Gallaudet,” Heuer said.

Who is Gallaudet? A community, perhaps, that is willing to come together to learn both ASL and English bilingualism, preserving the uniqueness of the ever-changing deaf culture.

Correction: The article originally named Robert Sirvage as a Deaf Studies professor; it is edited to instructor. Also, in a quote, we printed “in deaf culture”; it is edited to “in signing environment.” We regret the error.

Photo credit: Amelia Dall


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33 Responses to “This is Gallaudet”

  1. Rima
    November 27, 2010 at 5:10 PM #

    I agreed 100 percent! I am from deaf family and sign ASL whole of my life. I came to Gallaudet and graduated 2004. I became friend with those who are oral and trying to learn to sign. I saw many of their frustrations while others looked down at them. They do talk without sign language with their friends because it is more relax and comfortable. I dated one for two years, his sign had grown a lot because he interact with me and my friends more than he ever did. It is because we welcome him and his friends in our conversations. He often said it is hard because we are fast. His friends and he grown a lot. If not for me, I wonder how he feels in Gallaudet for other few more years. If he talks without signing, it means he s in his comfort zone and able to chat about whatever he wants. In classroom, he is not able to understand 100 percent but he didn’t give up and always try to understand ASL and able to express in ASL. They came to Gallaudet to understand themselves better as a deaf person. Appreciate those people! And WELCOME them!

  2. Magen
    November 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM #

    I commend you for writing the above article, although I am a bit curious if any of the quotes above were taken out of context.

    That aside, I just have a few comments that I couldn’t shake and felt I should share…

    The ‘discord’ you refer to may also be called ‘guilt’ by those who are insensitive and shameless. Those who know they are in the wrong tend to be very defensive. Would there even be a need for you to write an article if everyone made an attempt to sign at all times?

    I agree that the focus should be on language use on campus, let’s make sure we’re all using it- ASL.

    You state the problem on campus is the lack of acceptance…for who? New signers? Hearing people?
    Or, is it possible that the problem on campus is the lack of the acceptance to use ASL.

    Who are these hearing people you speak of that have no empathy for inept signers? I’ve yet to meet one person critical of another’s signing abilities. I’d love for them to come forward…there was a time when they were new signers themselves and someone was there to teach them. I doubt if they would not be willing to return the favor.

    Bilingualism at Gallaudet should be referred to as ASL and written English. The fact that the word ‘written’ is omitted from the mission statement doesn’t make it kosher to speak on campus. If you’re truly here to become bilingual, than stop talking and start signing.

    Some students take a long time to master ASL, yes this is true….and it takes even longer when they aren’t practicing.
    “There needs to be an establishment of zones throughout campus where people are allowed to use whatever language they feel comfortable communicating in,” said Malkowski. “The more students feel comfortable and less stressed on campus, the more likely they will be capable of picking up sign language in academic environments and from other peers.”
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that quote sounds like hearing students should be able to talk, thus relieving stress, and in turn, will improve their ASL. How does speaking improve one’s ASL?

    You mentioned the undergraduates are required to read, understand, and sign the language policy…great…do they actually follow it?

    The hearing students need the school to provide support on campus? For what? They aren’t the only minorities on campus. This all seems a bit ridiculous. Do they need counseling because they are insensitive to what they got themselves into?

    “Deaf students expect everyone to know ASL?” I think they expect everyone to at least attempt to sign. Is that too much to ask of students who willingly applied to a Deaf/ Signing University?

    The idea of having zones on campus for language use is preposterous. There is a Deaf zone…it’s called Gallaudet. There is a hearing zone as well…it’s called ‘the rest of the world.’

    A clear language policy would be ideal…but it doesn’t change the fact that the students should be signing. There are such things as unwritten rules.

    You included this quote…“Imagine telling deaf people at a hearing school (or even oral schools back in the days) that they could not use their native language, sign language, to communicate. Would they like that? No. Now imagine telling hearing people not to talk — which is their native mode of communication — outside of the classroom,” said a hard-of-hearing student who chose to stay anonymous.
    Are you really attempting to endorse this comparison? Denying Deaf people access to communication by allowing speaking on campus is not the answer for hearing people that want to talk. The admission to this school and acceptance of that admission was a choice made by these students. Hearing people can talk…just not at Gallaudet.

    Hopefully this didn’t come across as a personal attack, you seem to have collected the facts and presented them. My comments were simply meant to be blunt, not offensive. It’s critical to keeping signing in mind, and not covering up the issue with irrelevant factors, such as ‘hearing space,’ hearing minorities, etc. Gallaudet is a small place, do people really want to convert this signing space into a hearing space for the comfort of a few?

  3. Sara Malkowski
    November 28, 2010 at 11:25 AM #

    To Magen:

    You’d be surprised at how many hearing students are judgmental of each other’s signing skills. They may not be as vocal about it but it is there. I know that I, for one, was guilty of that and I’m a CODA. And just because it’s my first language doesn’t make my behavior any more appropriate than a hearing person doing it. It’s not about returning the favor to be empathic towards other hearing students. It seems to have become a competition because having proficient signing skills appears to define who you are here; who is more confident? Who has the best signing skills? Who is able interact with Deaf individuals more?

    As far as support goes, Gallaudet does not provide any. Yes, hearing students made the decision to come to Gallaudet but not with the understanding that they would experience discrimination based on their lack of signing skills or their audiological status. Do you honestly believe that the Admissions office shares that kind of information with prospective hearing students? No, I think they would be too afraid to come here. Hearing students come here to learn ASL and Deaf culture the proper way, from interactions with Deaf individuals and not from some person teaching from a book. Do we not want skilled interpreters? social workers? teachers? Do we not want advocates and allies for this community who know what they are talking about?

    In terms of support, Gallaudet needs to be more proactive about making sure ALL new students not only hearing students but ALL students are transitioning comfortably. Students here come from various backgrounds. Transitions are being made not only from English/SEE/Contact Signing/Cued Speech, etc to ASL/written English but from high school to college, from a hearing identity to a hard of hearing/Deaf identity, being dependent to independent, from suburbia/the country to the city, living in a house to living in a dorm, etc. This is where my comment about communication free zones comes from. With students making these numerous transitions, they aren’t able to be comfortable with themselves or confident with their new signing skills.

    I did not really apply this idea to hearing students as I did for oral Deaf, hard of hearing and new signers here at Gallaudet. This year there has been a heavy increase of new signers that are extremely frustrated with learning ASL. They feel that they are being policed on campus; no one is going to learn in that kind of environment. Isn’t our ultimate goal to have students signing all the time? Essentially to obtain our ultimate goal, we need to be a little flexible. Showing that little flexibility shows so much respect for each other and isn’t that what this is really about? The lack of respect for each other? We come with our own expectations of what Gallaudet and it’s students should be like and when they don’t meet our expectations we ignore or judge them. We are the generation of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions and with that shows our disrespect for our fellow students.

    This is not meant to disrespect or attack you but I think you missed the point of the article. There is no need for “hearing space” on campus but respect for those who are learning ASL despite their audiological status. I wholeheartedly agree that Gallaudet should ALWAYS be a signing space but the demographic of incoming students are changing and we need to adapt to that. How can we ease the transition for these students and show them that we want them a part of this community? That we want them to gain a better understanding of ASL and Deaf culture? I think a start is to accept them for who they are, whatever that may be.

    • Amanda Koski
      November 28, 2010 at 6:28 PM #

      I agree with Sara 100%!

      Last year was my first year at Gallaudet and I had a huge struggle with ASL. Not only to move far away from home and become completely independent, also experiencing my first year in college, and then being told that my identity as a hearing person was wrong. That I couldn’t express my identity on campus as a hearing individual (ex: talking on the phone or talking with other hearing students), that was really hard for me to handle.

      The Student Collation has really helped me this year and it has given me an opportunity to have some peer-to-peer support which has been wonderful!

      To go back to “hearing space”. My question is Why? Why can’t we just be tolerant? It all starts with us teaching tolerance. Why not start now?

    • what does it mean?
      November 29, 2010 at 2:03 PM #

      2 questions because I’m not sure what it means:

      1) They feel that they are being policed on campus
      What does this mean?

      2) We are the generation of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions
      I know you mean we shouldn’t assume, but what is the generation–curious.

      Thanks 🙂

      • Policed
        December 17, 2017 at 3:10 PM #

        ‘Policed’ means as if the students were constantly being watched to see if they talk. Kind of like the police notice when a crime has been committed.
        Just my two cents. ✌🏾️

    • Jonathan Beatty
      November 29, 2010 at 3:12 PM #

      Terrific. Some of the points here are points I make on a daily basis; specifically, the point about the new students not being told about the so-called darker side of Deaf culture. I have found the culture here to be somewhat exclusionary at times.

      I’ll explain myself: I’m hard-of-hearing and have been since birth. However, I “fit in” in the hearing world well. Face-to-face communication is easy enough for me (even though using the phone is painfully difficult with some voices) that I did not *have* to come to Gallaudet. However, I’ve had good experiences with the Academic Bowl, having come to Nationals three times. I was always met with respect and patience, even though during the competition I used a voice interpreter. I came to Gallaudet as a new signer (in the summer program as well) expecting similar treatment.

      Ha! I was wrong. In only the third day of the New Signers’ Program, my table at lunch was approached by a proud Deaf girl who proceeded to tell us (with a good friend of mine translating for my benefit, of course) that Gallaudet was a Deaf university and that we should only sign while on campus. Those competent in ASL at the table were sim-comming, but two of us were just speaking. At that point, I knew letters, numbers, and days of the week, along with a smattereing of other useful signs (“right”, “wrong”, “day”, “morning”, etc) so I was not pleased at being told that my language skills were not good enough to be allowed to express myself.

      I am also offended that it’s somehow right for people to criticize my signing skills just because they are Deaf. It’s well-accepted on campus and seen as being just a sign of “Deaf bluntness”. I’m sick of it; I do make an effort to improve my signing skills, but what if I were to laugh at a Deaf person trying to order food at McDonald’s: “Your speaking is awful. You should practice more.” That would be completely unacceptable.

      The argument from tradition is a very, very poor one. Something is not good just because that’s how it’s traditionally been done. Some examples of “cultural traditions” here that I have come to abhor:

      1. The cultural policy on phones. I personally do not have voice on my phone (when I use the phone, I prefer to do so on Skype with my amplified headphones and equalizer). That being said, if someone wants to use the phone, let them. Is it right to sit at the table with Deaf people and speak on the phone? No, and for the same reason that it would be inappropriate for me to greet a phone call from my friend Hans with “Tag, Hans! Wie geht’s?” and proceed to rattle off in German while surrounded by English-speaking hearing people.

      2. The repression of simultaneous communication. Yes, I said it. The point is communication; when you get stuck in the game of being prideful in something just because it’s part of *your* culture, you’re playing the same stupid games oppressive people have always played. I’d like to be able to understand lectures and be able to participate. For the same reasons that Deaf students in mainstream schools do not typically participate in classes (linguistic processing is slow with or without the interpreter) I find it difficult to participate in a class when, by the time I understand what was signed, the conversation has already moved on. I do not think deaf people should be encouraged to sim-com if they’re not comfortable with it, not at all. However, I must say that I’m always appreciative when someone notices my poor signing skills and sim-coms for my benefit.

      3. The oppression of signs with “No, that’s English”; a lot of people on campus sign with an English structure anyway. That’s what happens in bilingual environments. It is very rare to see two languages side-by-side without “contamination”; Deaf English typically is missing things like articles, plurals, etc while Hearing ASL can contain signs which are, strictly speaking, completely unnecessary in a sign language. This occurs even when the people in question are fluent in both languages. There is a line between comfortable language and formal language; “Pidgin Signed English” is that line for a *lot* of students of all backgrounds.

      And with all due respect to President Hurwitz, I must say I disagree strongly with this comment: “And no, this is not about stifling speech or marginalizing those whose signing skills are undeveloped. Rather, it’s about respect, courtesy, tradition and harmony.” I don’t care what it’s about. I am more concerned with what it DOES. These policies DO stifle speech and they DO marginalize those whose signing skills are underdeveloped. Your intentions are irrelevant.

  4. Ally
    November 28, 2010 at 10:18 PM #

    First of all, I must say that points presented in Magen’s comment didn’t miss the point of the article. In fact, she brought back the points that the original article was trying to achieve. The bottom line is: when the hearing students willingly enroll themselves into a bilingual university, they now hold the responsibility of making sure that they are doing their best to be able to use both languages, especially ASL.


    To Amanda and whoever feels that their identity as a hearing person on campus is wrong,

    The message is not about how we want to tell you that your identity is wrong. We are just asking you to adapt to languages that are expected to be accessible to everyone on this campus: written English and ASL.

    By using spoken English, you deprive the majority of the people on this campus your conversation. AND the Deaf people on this campus have NO luxury of being able to learn how to speak or hear. NO LUXURY. Those hearing people on this campus who prefer to use spoken English are CAPABLE of learning ASL, but you choose to speak your native language for your own comfort. We, Deaf people, came to Gallaudet because it is the ONLY place we can expect to have everything on campus accessible to us including social language. Now, by walking around and speaking, you take a part of that image away from us.

    We are not telling you that as a hearing person, you are not welcome. We are asking you to try to accommodate your ways even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone, so EVERYONE on the campus will have access to everything that is being said.

    • ?
      November 29, 2010 at 4:36 PM #

      Just asking, is it really necessary to know EVERYTHING that a person talks, especially when it is personal stuff (for both deaf and hearing)? For example, if I was talking to a person (friend, family, whatever) about a recent death in my family that is emotional– must I sign for that, or walk all the way back to some enclosed space to talk? Frankly, it wouldn’t be any of your business, right?

      However, I do understand the point that by talking, some deaf people are left out– missing out important news or educational discussions. This isn’t fair at all. I think that the simple, but not easy, solution is to have the hearing people be aware of their surroundings and try their best to sign, and the deaf people to respect hearing people when they need to express themselves (which may be best expressed verbally). That way, everyone will have access to the necessary/important information.

      oh, by the way, I am deaf myself

  5. A'Ja
    November 29, 2010 at 12:57 AM #

    Although I am a hearing student, I do feel that I can offer a minority perspective. As a Black woman I completely understand why the Deaf community is so angry. I’m angry as well. Do I think categorizing people is right? No. Do I understand why they do it? 100% and I do it myself with absolutely no shame. It’s a friend or foe mentality and it’s not something people just easily let go of.

    As others have done, I’ll use Howard University as a comparison. Howard University is a historically Black college that was established for Black people. According to, out of the 10, 320 students currently enrolled at Howard, 96 are white. There are many reasons why these white people would choose to go to a school that is over 50% Black majority and focuses specifically on educating the Black community, but they asked to be there. I’m sure these white students don’t walk down the halls blasting country music. While they have every right as students of that school to play whichever music they’d like – besides the fact that most Black people really aren’t fans of country, country music has a history of being incredibly racist not only in lyrics but in the country music industry.

    I know comparing playing country music to speaking isn’t the best comparison but I’m hoping that I’m getting my point across.

    I do feel that Gallaudet is handling the issues that are arising as best they can while trying to please everyone, but it’s going to take a lot of time. While everyone is rushing to set up policies and rules that doesn’t mean people are going to follow or agree with them. I seem to keep hearing the same responses from both sides, unsatisfactory justifications of bad behavior as “language preference” or this, that, and the third. Choice of language really is only the tip of the iceberg and there are so many other reasons why people are so heated.

    Gallaudet didn’t accept new signers/non-signers/ hearing people overnight, so the issues people are having aren’t going to be resolved overnight.

    Gallaudet is first and foremost a school for the deaf and while anyone that wants to receive an education and has respect for the Deaf community should be allowed to come, I think people need to be more culturally respectful and sensitive. Gallaudet is not only a university but also a safe space and a comfort zone. If speaking in public areas in non-emergency situations makes deaf people feel insulted or uncomfortable, I don’t see the big issue with not speaking. But Gallaudet needs to also be a comfort zone for deaf people that may have other ways of communicating and using ASL can be a long and slow transition.

    There should be more of an effort to make coming to Gallaudet a more gentle arrival and educate those who don’t realize how their actions make others feel – as angry as some of us are. Howard is not just any university and Gallaudet is not just any university, no policy will ever change that.

    • Interesting
      November 29, 2010 at 2:16 PM #

      Interesting comparison with Howard. Wow, that is like only 1% of people at Howard are white? We have a much higher percentage of hearing people at Gallaudet. Not to mention the faculty, staff, and administration. I’m assuming we have way more hearing people than Howard would have white people. It would be fascinating to see statistics, plus compare attitudes and experience of the white students at Howard to hearing students at Gallaudet. What a cool research project that could be. Yes, the language learning at Gallaudet is a difference, but as you say it’s also part of a bigger picture.

  6. Ryan Commerson
    November 29, 2010 at 5:36 PM #

    Derrick Behm,

    First, I’d like to commend you on your courage to tackle this 146 year old problem by responding to Elena Ruiz’s let’s-see-what’s-under-the-rug article. That said, something significant needs to be clarified:

    You wrote, “The recent article “Who is Gallaudet,” written by Elena Ruiz, recently created some discord among different groups of students and faculty at Gallaudet University.”

    This reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ where he wrote, “Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

    Are you saying that there were no discord on campus prior to Ruiz’s article? What of the uprisings in 1988 and 2006? One only need to take a quick skim through all the BnB issues dating back to its first publication or to take a stroll down to the aging Merrill library and scan the microfiches… or even to have a coffee with a historian, Dr. Brian Greenwald or a philosopher, Robert Sirvage to understand the true history of Gallaudet University. The truth is, deaf people have NEVER been in the position of power at Gallaudet, even during the days of Irving K. Jordan, Robert Davila, or … sad to say, even Alan Hurwitz. Their presidency have been largely symbolic.

    The entire Gallaudet campus have always been the “hearing space”. Deaf people have never owned it nor did ASL ever flourished freely on campus. Heck, even today, people continue to debate on whether ASL is an academic language. In 1965, when Dr. William Stokoe (a hearing person) first announced that ASL is indeed a bona fide language, he was ridiculed relentlessly by his own colleagues on campus…that’s only 45 years ago. ASL finally found its way into the university mission statement in 2007 and it took a protest to make it happen. That’s 3 years ago. ASL isn’t safe from persecution.

    Elena Ruiz was very brave to step up and expose the muck under the rug because that’s exactly what it was. It’s not about how she framed it, its about what’s really under the rug. Yes, I agree, the community DO need to come together… but how can we do that when deaf people’s right to be deaf isn’t even secure? When ASL isn’t even secure? The mere presence of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences Department on campus is a daily reminder that deafness isn’t a viable aspect of human diversity. It is a problem that requires medical attention, therefore, requires a legion of HSLS specialists to study it, become an authority over deaf bodies, to speak for us, to describe us, and to explain to the world about us.

    I believe that Ruiz used the term ‘hearization’ (due to lack of better word) to describe what Gallaudet has always been.. a gigantic petri dish under microscope. Robert Sirvage is right, we do need to move away from associating ASL as the “deaf language” .. it is a human language, at the same time, when we do that, what would our identity be based on? Do we fight to preserve our deafness as well as our deafblindness as a significant part of human diversity or do we allow the likes of HSLS people to figure out how to normalize us (stem cell research, CI, etc)? Do we desire normalcy? What exactly is our uniqueness? Do we push Gallaudet into the direction of ‘Deaf Gain’ by Dr. Dirksen Bauman/Dr. Joseph Murray? All those questions are exactly the reason why we must re-define ‘DEAF’ as well as re-define what it means to be human. We cannot talk about coming together as a community while ignoring the power structure that’s dominated the campus since 1864.

    Paulo Freire said, “The oppressed cannot become the oppressor.” Although the hearing students on campus are a minority in number, they aren’t a minority in terms of power/privilege. We, deaf, deafblind, the oppressed minority, must take on the responsibility to free ourselves and even our oppressors for they cannot free themselves. It is our job to point out the privileges because that is exactly what it is.. privileges that are invisible to those who have them. Gallaudet community will never become diverse and whole until then.

    • Derrick
      November 30, 2010 at 2:57 AM #


      You bring up many good points. I really appreciate your input.

      First of all, you are right, there has always been this “discord.” I am fully aware of the protests, etc. I was just stating that the feelings got a bit more “fiery” as more people on campus are becoming involved with this topic– of course, causing a bit of opposition and bringing out many different opinions (which doesn’t have to be a bad thing). Some people are really taking this personally. Maybe I should have been more clear about that.

      Secondly, you are also right about Stokoe’s situation which he received little support for his research on ASL. ASL IS in danger, but it is not only because hearing people are speaking on campus. To me, it seems like we are making the hearing people on campus a scapegoat, a blame, for our struggle of keeping ASL alive. There are many new signers who are deaf on campus (more than ever) and we are doing very little to approach that. Heck, Sirvage is right, Gallaudet is sending different messages to people all over the country. To students in deaf schools, we tell them how much we cherish bilingualism (and ASL in its pure form) at Gallaudet. To students from mainstreamed schools, we tell them that they will find a college where they will finally belong, not making language a big deal. To hearing students who are passionate about becoming a part of our culture, we tell them that they will be immersed in Deaf culture.

      However, when they all arrive, they find something different. Hearing people, in fact, may become shocked, overwhelmed, or stressed by how deaf people treat them according to their hearing and/or signing abilities. Deaf people can become very exclusive. Instead of including hearing people, we point fingers at them for talking. Our approach may be wrong, too– causing the hearing people to possibly feel hurt and reject our remarks. What good does that do for us? We also exclude many new signers, and if we don’t, we still don’t really make an effort to point fingers at them for talking on the phone, so what are we doing, really?

      What we need to do is to let go of the past. Just like black people today can’t blame their white peers for making their ancestors slaves, we can’t just blame hearing people, especially those who are on campus, for ruining our culture and language. By them talking into their phones doesn’t mean they do not support us, that they want to make us hearing or “normal.” Maybe they cross the line sometimes, but we can always kindly remind them that they are in Gallaudet. We need to be careful who we point fingers at.

      As for the hearing and speech center, I don’t see how that is harmful– or how it should be the “a daily reminder that deafness isn’t a viable aspect of human diversity.” Obtaining services there are completely optional. Speaking is a skill that some people can obtain, myself included. It may just as well be like a gym reminding us that obesity isnt a viable aspect of human diversity, or how the Mental Health Center may be a reminder how our brains are. Do by going to get counseling make us abnormal in our society? We still can function perfectly normal in our culture regardless what “services” we get. I can speak very well but I am a very strong advocate of the Deaf community. I come from generations of deaf families and I am proud of my Deaf identity. Many people misunderstand or misinterpret the attitude of the Hearing and Speech Center. Also, people in Hearing and Speech Center should also be aware that by not being able to speak is perfectly okay– we can’t always help it.

      But, you are right… many hearing centers outside of Gallaudet do not adopt this ideology. They will always try to “normalize” us. No question, there are actual researches on how to genetically cure deafness. You are right in that we have to redefine what is “Deaf”

      I do applaud Elena Ruiz for writing “Who is Gallaudet” and Buff and Blue for publishing it. I am honored to write a response article. My intention was to write a neutral article that is not one-sided, biased, and that is based on factual information. This article serves as a supplement, and if I may add, with a professional approach, to Elena’s article.

      Lastly, I think we should shift our fingers to the administration. What are they doing with this? I really pray that they will be involved with this as much as the students and readers of Buff and Blue have been involved. You said it right, “we must take on the responsibility to free ourselves and even our oppressors for they cannot free themselves.”

      Thank YOU for your participation and valuable insights and thoughts.

      • Ryan Commerson
        November 30, 2010 at 4:23 PM #

        Comparing HSLS Dept’s presence to a gym or MHC?


        As for the administration.. I reckon you’ll be praying for a long time. ‘Em knees are gonna hurt. Those in positions of power NEVER give up or share whatever power they have and they are not going to start now. We’ll need to ask, what exactly is their agenda? Will they tell us? No. Language hegemony is one of the, if not THE, most damning dominating force known to humankind and it occurs daily on campus. ASL is a threat to that hegemony, quite essentially, its a counterhegemony. As long as deaf people remain undereducated, they’ll never know power. Ask yourself this, why, since Gallaudet’s inception in 1864, it’s never taken the responsibility to lead the Deaf Education of America? Even the current members of Board of Trustees continue to question the validity of ASL/English bilingual mission at Galluadet.

        Then you have hearing students walking around on campus demanding to be left alone so they can speak in their first language… no.. ahem, they even turned around and accuse deaf people of oppressing them? We can’t win. No matter where we go, we’re always the ones who are unreasonable and militant. Even if there are 3,000 hearing universities/colleges across the nation, we cannot claim Gallaudet as our own little intellectual bastion. Ever.

        Notes: Neutrality exists nowhere. Also, by claiming that you’ve taken a professional approach to the article is misleading given that writing editorials is not your current profession. And, facts are relative…like everything else in life.


        • Derrick
          November 30, 2010 at 7:25 PM #

          Language hegemony? From my understanding, Gallaudet takes advantage of the fact that it is a bilingual university (hence, using ASL as a communication mode of instruction). ASL is the reason for Gallaudet’s survival. ASL is Gallaudet’s niche now. Without ASL, Gallaudet will be just like any other university. What you are asking is what is the agenda and the attitude behind taking advantage of ASL, is it?

          You are right that as long as deaf people remain uneducated, they will never know power.

          This article did not say that the hearing students are saying that the deaf people are oppressing them. Instead, it points out that both deaf and hearing people are frustrated due to communication issues, and that there needs to be a solution.

          What “Who is Gallaudet” and this article should be asking is, how are we adapting to the changes in our deaf culture while cherishing ASL? How do we allow others to cherish ASL with us? How should we approach people who are comfortable with speaking rather than signing on campus?

          By the way, Elena Ruiz pointed out that the hearing students (HUG) have increased exponentially. That is not a fact, therefore not relative.

          • Ryan Commerson
            December 6, 2010 at 10:20 PM #


            A solution has already been on a silver platter and delivered to the Administrators. They refuse to acknowledge it, invest in it, and act on it.

            Solution: films. Mechanisms of mass media have always been the most powerful change agent. Newspaper, radio, television, film… and internet.

            Large part of our problems lie in lack of understanding and by sharing our narratives, we become aware and thus more compassionate.

            Facundo Element’s Butterfly Effect just posted another article:


            Perhaps this will give you an insight into Gallaudet’s history and why there are such a strong reaction to Elena Ruiz’s article.

  7. Charles Wirick
    November 30, 2010 at 11:21 PM #

    Obviously, that show me that Gallaudet University is disease. People there are confused about bilingual. Not all hearing people that against ASL.

  8. Charles Wirick
    November 30, 2010 at 11:39 PM #

    Also please stay positive with ASL, then you will success.

  9. Keep Trying
    December 1, 2010 at 2:18 AM #

    As a university we’re going to change whether we like it or not. We have no choice one way or the other. And it isn’t a question of what we’re going to change into. Not really. Even if we resolve something among ourselves here and now but don’t build that resolution into the university itself, then when we are gone, so will our resolution also be gone.

    Unless we can get around that. So the real question becomes “How will we build into Gallaudet the changes we want to see in a manner that does not destroy the institution in the process?”

    “Go somewhere else” isn’t going to accomplish that. Blocking a gate isn’t going to accompish that. Hating each other won’t accomplish that. Pretending to be tolerant isn’t going to accomplish that. Waiting for someone else to do something isn’t going to accomlish that. Waiting until Deaf Culture and ASL are firmly established before allowing any kind of flexibility whatsoever isn’t going to accomplish that. Continuing to see deafness as nothing but a disability isn’t going to accomplish that. And refusing to sign isn’t going to accompish that.

    Of course it might be a question of whether or not anyone WANTS to accomplish that. In which case, if enough people simply don’t want to, we won’t. And then, as Ryan said, we lose. Only this time it won’t just be Deaf people who lose. It will be everyone who ever cared about Gallaudet and believed in what it could become. And it what it still may yet become.

    For me, the answer is simple. I want to win. And I’m willing to listen (with my eyes) to anyone, I’m willing to do everything I can, just to see if we can all win. And that’s why I’m not putting my name here. Maybe the first step is simply getting you to believe I could be the person standing right next to you… someone you didn’t think you could ever get through to. So keep communicating. And you just might.

  10. Wow....
    December 5, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

    My son is a HOH rural- always mainstreamed-student. No ASL ever offered. The last thing he needs is another place he won’t be accepted without “conditions”.
    At least he knows what he is up against at a “hearing school”. Was so hopeful that this college could could be a welcome break from discrimination for being who he is. I am so dissappointed that “adults” act in this manner- especially ones who have been horribly discriminated against as he has been. He has worked so incredibly hard- zero possiblity of being torn apart in DC

  11. Charles Wirick
    December 5, 2010 at 9:31 PM #

    Gallaudet considered neophyte. It is where the major problem at Gallaudet.

  12. Charles Wirick
    December 5, 2010 at 10:11 PM #

    My best advice is to stay positive. That is where the best solution at Gallaudet.

  13. Keep Trying (Reply to Wow)
    December 7, 2010 at 9:42 PM #

    I’m quoting Derrick’s comment above:

    “This article did not say that the hearing students are saying that the deaf people are oppressing them. Instead, it points out that both deaf and hearing people are frustrated due to communication issues, and that there needs to be a solution.”

    We had a campus-wide dialogue today. Many of these concerns were discussed. More dialogues, town hall meetings, and other activities are planned for the spring. The president mentioned there would be three more dialogues this spring alone, not even counting other activities.

    Where you send your son is up to the two of you. But we have the right and the need to address issues that have been neglected, hidden, and avoided for decades. Don’t be so quick to judge us or assume what will happen to your son should he come here. We have as many differences among us as any group of human beings does.

    I was very happy with what my group in the dialogue discussed today and look forward to Buff and Blue articles that covered the dialogue as a whole.

  14. T.G.
    December 12, 2010 at 12:07 PM #

    Is it true that Ryan Commerson and Allison Aubrecht were the ghost writers of the original piece “Who is Gallaudet” appearing in the Buff and the Blue? What I am hearing is that Ruiz was asked to use her name so that Buff and Blue would print it. Any truth in this?

    A dialogue happened on campus and three more have been planned. Do you have any idea how long we have been talking, talking, talking about this issue? The time for talk is long over. We need action by informed leadership in concert with faculty, staff and students. When will the change begin?

    • Leila Hanaumi
      December 14, 2010 at 3:27 PM #

      To answer your first question: no, Elena Ruiz wrote this article herself.

      By the way, the Buff and Blue does accept articles from contributing writers outside of Gallaudet.

  15. Charles Wirick
    December 15, 2010 at 12:51 PM #

    This is like high school.

  16. Charles Wirick
    December 15, 2010 at 1:11 PM #

    There is no win situation.

  17. Candy
    December 15, 2010 at 3:41 PM #

    Charles Wirick..

    I’d like to ask you a few things and perhaps blog about your experience at Galladuet. If you’re interested, email me at

    I have a blog over at


  18. Gary Malkowski
    January 3, 2011 at 5:29 PM #

    Gallaudet University is the best, safe and corfortable place for learning ASL environment for all students regardless of the status of their hearing levels and level of ASL skills. Staff be there to support and coach their positive learning enriching langauge and cultural experience to gain appreciation of ASL world in respectful ways. All students including oral deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, deafened, and HUG must be welcome in learning ASL as to shift to DEAF-GAINS as to foster the development of ASL and Deaf space in every aspect as we need to recognize the hearing space as to support them in the positive transition to participate in ASL and Deaf-Gains world in appreciation of Deaf space on Gallaudet University campus.

  19. Adriana
    August 9, 2015 at 11:40 AM #

    I am glad I read this. I am hard hearing student verbal I guess since I didn’t learn sign language this school is not for me. Thanks

  20. Very Sad
    May 16, 2017 at 9:52 PM #

    This article is 7 years old. I’m so glad I found it. I learned basic ASL at my job for 3 years and wanted to attend Gallaudet. I don’t think I want to attend, after reading this article. Too bad, I had some great plans to immerse myself in the real “Deaf World”.

    • Very sad indeed
      December 17, 2017 at 3:16 PM #

      There is prejudice wherever you go in this world. In that sense, Deaf and hearing are the same. It’s very unfortunate. 😔

  21. JaxDeakeGam
    July 18, 2017 at 3:33 PM #

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