Gallaudet Students Arrested

Incoming Gallaudet president Jane K. Fernandes speaks to students at the school's Florida Avenue entrance.
Incoming Gallaudet president Jane K. Fernandes speaks to students at the school's Florida Avenue entrance. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie, Michael E. Ruane and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 14, 2006

The president of Gallaudet University told protesting students last night that they had to end the three-day demonstration that has shut down the elite college for the deaf or face arrest.

The ultimatum by longtime leader I. King Jordan was delivered to protesters at the school's main entrance on Florida Avenue NE about 7 p.m. It further raised tensions that have been building at the school for almost a week and smoldering since May, when students began protesting the appointment of incoming president Jane K. Fernandes.

By 9 p.m., campus police had begun arresting protesters.

Throngs of jeering students continued to block the school's Sixth Street entrance.

The demonstration, with students blocking several entrances and camping out on campus, has halted activity at the school and left the campus littered with trash and debris.

Jordan's announcement came as Fernandes met with students to negotiate yesterday, the first time since protesters shut down the school earlier this week.

For several days, students have been demanding that Fernandes come and talk with them.

When she did yesterday, she emerged from a black sport-utility vehicle and, flanked by two security officers, stepped out to a security gatepost at the top of the hill at the Florida Avenue entrance.

"For one week, deaf infants and children and youth up to grade 8 have not been able to go to school," she said, referring to the elementary and high schools for deaf students on the campus.

"For one week, our model high school has been closed. For one week, both undergraduate and graduate students have been denied their education. For one week, we have had no mail delivered. Deaf babies scheduled for hearing tests and audiology exams are not able to get on campus. Senior citizens who are hard of hearing and seek the services of our audiology clinic cannot get here.

"This has gone on long enough," she said. "I am asking a small group of students to join me now for a conversation about reopening Gallaudet University without delay. I hope you will meet with me."

They did that afternoon, but students left disappointed.

Fernandes said she would not step down -- even as the university's alumni association urged her to resign and declared that there is overwhelming support for her removal.

"She is not willing to come halfway," said protest leader Delia Lozana-Martinez, saying Fernandes wanted to talk to the students only about opening campus. "It disappoints and disgusts me. I don't think it was productive at all."

The protest began in the spring with the search for a successor to Jordan. A group of black students complained that not enough attention was paid to diversity, and that a strong African American former board chairman was passed over for weaker candidates. Many on campus objected to Fernandes, who was then provost, and when her appointment was announced, it sparked two weeks of demonstrations in May.

Since then, issues have simmered in the close-knit deaf community, and many people, with a wide range of complaints, have come together to demand a new president. Some say Fernandes has divided the campus; some say she has allowed racism and audism, discrimination against deaf people; some say she isn't a good symbol for the deaf community -- she did not learn American Sign Language until she was in her 20s.

Because Gallaudet is the only liberal arts college for the deaf, its leader has cultural importance far beyond that of most university presidents.

Her supporters, including Jordan and some faculty and staff members, say that she has led the creation of a wide-ranging diversity plan addressing some of the campus's most painful issues, that she has promoted improved academics at the 1,800-student school and that she has met with many on campus since May to talk about issues. Fernandes has said the debate is over deaf identity, as technology has been changing deaf culture, not about her.

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company