Gallaudet University, based in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “the only university in the world designed to be barrier-free for Deaf and hard of hearing students.” I first learned about Gallaudet from the guidance counselor at my high school who told me it would be perfect for students like me. I ultimately attended Lewis & Clark College, and then later Harvard Law School. But recent events at Gallaudet reminded me of my high school self, tired of feeling isolated and dreaming of a college where I would feel fully included.
Over the past week I interviewed four Deafblind students who entered Gallaudet University with high hopes for an inclusive experience. Like most universities, Gallaudet reduced on-campus housing due to the pandemic. The four Deafblind students told me they had lived in the residence halls during the spring semester and needed to remain on campus. The university approved emergency housing for the two Deafblind students who are white, but would not provide housing to the two Deafblind students of color. In one fell swoop, the school erased racial diversity from the Deafblind population living on campus.
While many students will be learning remotely this fall, the Deafblind students of color depend on tactile sign language to access information. Tactile signing is when one holds their hands over another’s hands to feel the signs. Throughout the spring they relied on a tight network of friends and volunteer interpreters in the DC area. Now that they’re back in their home states, far from their circle of support in DC, they’re worried Gallaudet will not provide them access to their classes this fall.
All four students chose to speak out against Gallaudet’s decision, including the two students who were permitted to continue living on campus. I am honored they trusted me with their stories, and I commend their courage to protest injustice. I published the article on The Tempest:
It takes courage to advocate for justice. Advocate whenever you can, as much as you can.