Stories By My Friends

Dear Democracy Now!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear Democracy Now,

    It was with dismay that I watched your interviews with LaToya

Plummer and Jonathan Kurs on today's program.  I am a faculty member

at Gallaudet, and I am therefore deeply interested in the issues you

discussed.  But your program seemed to me to take a completely

uncritical approach to the version of events told by these two

protesters.  I must tell you that this is not the whole story.  More

than 300 members of the Gallaudet community, including myself, in a

diverse group of faculty, staff, and students, joined a movement

counter to these protests.  Some supported the appointment of Jane

Fernandes, others did not.  But all had a very different view of the

protests than the one presented on your show today.  Many more did not

join our group because of threats and intimidation that made it hard

for anyone on campus to oppose the protest.  Members of my group have

received threatening e-mails and letters.  And lest you think that

this is a simple case of conservative opposition to protest, you

should know that among those opposing the protest were a large

percentage of people whose social activism goes back many years.  My

own history of activism and protest goes back to the anti-war protests

against the Vietnam War, and has continued with work on behalf of

women's rights, gay rights, labor issues, and so forth.  I have

marched or protested for many causes in many cities, and been involved

in campus sit-ins, "take back the night" marches, every national GLBT

march in Washington, etc.  I am a contributor to WPFW radio here in

Washington.  Others from our group, a few years older than I, trace

their history of activism back to the civil rights movement.  We often

turned to one another to remark that this was the first time we had

found ourselves opposing a protest rather than participating in it.

You need to ask yourselves why this is the case.

    The issues here are complex, and your viewers and listeners

deserve to have more than one side presented to them.  A few examples

of inaccuracies: the protest began with students of color, but they

were soon pushed aside and even excluded from important protest

organization meetings.  The Black Deaf Student Union distanced itself

from the protest because of that exclusion.  The search process was

not only relatively transparent, it was remarkably open: students,

faculty, and staff had been invited to participate in the search

process, and representatives of each of these groups served on the

search committee which chose the finalists and recommended Fernandes,

who is, after all, deaf herself.  The protesters demanded responses

from the board on an independent investigation into the search

process, but took it off the table when agreement had almost been

reached.  Campus security entered the barricaded building to

investigate a bomb threat, but were blocked in that attempt by the

students who held the building.  The football team is widely know to

have joined the protest in part to force the issue to a head so as not

to endanger their status in this year's division competition.  The

hunger strikers continued to take nourishment in the form of protein

shakes, V-8, and chicken soup.  Some of these are small matters, but

some are rather signficant..

    More importantly, within the short space of the two segments which

you aired, the issues presented by Plummer and Kurs as leading to the

protests included:  exclusion of people of color from the search

process, a flawed search process, an unresponsive board of trustees,

audism and racism, and Jane Fernandes's supposed lack of leadership

ability.  There is some grain of truth to all of these, but in fact

none of them really represents the whole truth.  Indeed, the central

issue was probably the one most often denied:  the position of

Gallaudet as the center of Deaf culture or ASL culture, which is

gravely threatened by demographic, medical, and technological

changes.  Jane Fernandes was rejected by a strong coalition of deaf

faculty and alumni who either had personal axes to grind against a

tough administrator, or who did not see her as a fitting symbol to the

world of deaf culture.  These faculty and alumni coached and advised

the student protesters not to give up their insistence on Fernandes

resignation.  And many students hated Fernandes for punishing those

students who were responsible for trashing a downtown hotel during

homecoming weekend last year.  The unwillingness of the protesters to

accept anything less than Fernandes's resignation meant that there was

noever any compromise position for them.  And those faculty and staff

encouraged the students to face arrest, but disappeared themselves as

soon as arrests were imminent.  This was no simple case of the

underdog attacking the forces of power.  And, in fact, Fernandes has

done more in the last six years to address issues of racism and

audism, and to establish institutional mechanisms and plans to

encourage diversity and to advance in those areas, than any other

administrator in the university.

 I would be happy to try to help you understand the issues involved

here at greater length, but I cannot adequately do so in an e-mail.

However, you need to be aware of the inadequacies of your report.

Thank you for considering an alternative perspective,

Barry Bergen



Barry H. Bergen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History

Gallaudet University

Washington, DC 20002

202-651-5926 (v/TTY)


updated: 13 years ago