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Gallaudet community engages in communication dialogues

March 5, 2011
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The Gallaudet campus brings together people who are hearing, deaf, native signers, new signers, and many others in between. With deepening diversity comes new and challenging discussion about communication, an activity that two recent events nurtured in different ways.

On February 8, the Office of the President hosted the campus-wide dialogue, Communication at Gallaudet: Building an Inclusive and Respectful Communication Climate.  Two weeks later, the Student Body Government (SBG), with support from the Office of the President, organized a tolerance promotion event with speakers from the campus community.

“Our community has many unique facets,” said Dr. Dirksen Bauman, coordinator of the Office of Bilingual Teaching and Learning, at the beginning of the campus-wide dialogue.

Angela McCaskill, deputy to the president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion, went on to explain that though the community may have many different people within it, the majority of them want the same thing.  According to evaluations of a dialogue about communication in December, she said, “Sixty-six percent of you said climate and community were important to you, [so] that will be our focus today.”

More than 100 faculty, staff, students, and administrators had formed circles of 10 to 15 across the multipurpose room of the Jordan Student Academic Center. Bauman and Eloise Molock, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, presented scenarios where the individuals involved would have to balance different communication needs and preferences. The organizers then asked the groups to discuss each scenario among themselves with the help of facilitators stationed in each circle.  

Notetakers from the Office of Students with Disabilities documented the dialogues and submitted voluminous notes to the organizers. The Dialogue Planning Committee then reviewed and summarized the notes, and documented recurring themes that will be used to guide the planning and development for future events and actions.  The summaries from the dialogue notes including themes and selected comments from participants are posted on the Chief Diversity Officer’s webpage.

Embracing diversity was the theme of a February 22 event about building an environment of tolerance and acceptance at Gallaudet. The event, which took place in the Jordan Student Academic Center’s Multipurpose Room, drew a large crowd. It was so large, in fact, that Campus Activities staff had to set up additional rows of chairs to accommodate the participants.  

Student Body Government President Colin Whited emceed, introducing presentations by Provost Stephen Weiner; Rainbow Society President Alyssa Romano; Black Deaf Student Union President Teraca Florence; Tony Tatum, who arrived at Gallaudet a new signer and is captain of the Bison men’s basketball team; and Seth Gore, the president of Kappa Gamma fraternity and a deaf residential school graduate.

Drawing on their own experiences, the speakers spoke movingly of embracing diversity in sexual orientation, race and communication.  At the close of the event, organizers organizers distributed buff and blue bracelets stamped with the words “I am Gallaudet” and “Embrace,” By wearing the bracelets, Whited said, “You can send out a message of tolerance without saying a word.”

“This kind of open, respectful dialogue is a hallmark of higher education,” said Hurwitz, who said he will proudly display all three of the bracelets on a rotating basis. “Events like this are such an important reminder-to me and everyone-of the centrality of our students to the University. I particularly want to thank our students, and others, for their hard work to make this such a success.”

What struck Provost Weiner, whose presentation was entitled “The Irreplaceable Gallaudet,” was the groundswell of interest. “This was planned and hosted by students,” Weiner said. “An effort to embrace diversity must begin at a grassroots level.  I wholeheartedly support this model of civil discourse and look forward to more.”

“Whatever issues we have among us,” summed up Whited, “we have the solution-we are the solution-for it.”

5 March 2011

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