An earlier version of this transcript misidentified audism, which refers to discrimination based on hearing ability.
Interview with Gallaudet Sociology Chair and Student
Washington Post Radio's Mike Moss interviewed Margaret Vitullo, Chair of the Sociology Department at Gallaudet University and Lindsay Henderson, a Gallaudet student. They spoke through an unidentified interpreter.
Mike Moss: You're listening to Washington Post Radio where we're taking a look at the situation at Gallaudet University where Jane Fernandes remains determined to be the next president. The former provost of the nation's only liberal arts college for the deaf and hearing impaired is still the target of protesters who say she is not a strong enough leader and they want her to resign. In the last weeks we have talked with some of those in opposition to Jane Fernandes. Joining us now is Lindsay Henderson, a Gallaudet student, and Margaret Vitullo, a chair of the Sociology Department at Gallaudet. Margaret's also worked closely with groups who do not think the protests are appropriate, both are supporters of Jane Fernandes. They will be speaking with us now through a sign language interpreter. Thank you both for being with us here on Washington Post Radio, it's nice to have you with us.
Let me begin by asking you, Margaret, why do you think there is such opposition to Jane Fernandes at the school?
Margaret Vitullo: It's a very important question you're asking and there's not a simple answer...which is part of the reason why it's so hard to come up with a solution.
In a nutshell I believe there are three different kinds of oppression that are behind the protests.
The first form is historical oppression...all of the things that have been done to deaf people through the years by hearing people saying that deaf people's natural language is not good enough.
The second form of oppression has to do with people's personal
experiences of oppression....interpreters who are not qualified in the schools which leave deaf people behind, most deaf students have hearing parents and unfortunately it's very frequent for hearing parents not to learn sign language. Police frequently pull over deaf people or stop them when they're walking because they frequently have inner ear
problems that lead them to walk in not a straight line that police assume means they're intoxicated...so there's a variety of really awful personal experiences that deaf people have had.
The third form of oppression that's behind this protest, and I'm using the word oppression carefully, I think that word may in fact be too strong but I'm going to use it anyway because I think that's how the protesters experience it, involves the serious problems that exist at Gallaudet. Problems of audism, which is the belief that people with a certain hearing status are better than people who can't hear, issues of racism, that are real on campus. Unfortunately the protest has mixed these three forms of oppression together into a toxic stew that's bubbling over at our university.
We have to separate them out and focus on the third one. The real problems at Gallaudet University, and Jane Fernandes is ready, willing, and able to focus on the problems at Gallaudet University to build us into an institution that can go back to work on the other two.
Mike Moss: Margaret you talked about three forms of oppression, one of them audism. Do these forms of oppression exist on campus as well as in society in general?