Deaf HERstory Grand Opening

TRANSCRIPT:

MEREDITH PERUZZI:

Good afternoon.  I am delighted to see so many people who have come out for today's event.  I'm thrilled to see that you are interested in the topic of Deaf Women's History.  My name is Meredith Peruzzi, and I am the manager of the Gallaudet University museum.

This is the first exhibit that has been produced with student involvement, and I see a lot of students out here in the crowd, which means it's something that you can think about coming to work for us at the museum for future exhibitions.

I just have a couple of remarks to make, some greetings and some thank yous.  There are some important people here in the audience, Jack and Rosalyn Gannon, Don and Agnes Paddon and I want to thank President Hurwitz and the provost Carol Erting for coming out today. Two special people I would like to thank, Betty Joe and Jerry who actually really physically constructed the exhibit you see before you.  So thank you to the two of them.  They are from Blair, Inc. And Laura Lott must be thanked as well, the president of the American Alliance of Museums.  Gallaudet has been a member of AAM since 2007 and we're getting more involved in the museum community.  You might think that we have a very small impact, but, in fact, we are part of the museum world and we see ourselves as part of that world.

We do have a host of speakers today who are going to talk about the value of this event and exhibit.  To kick that off we'll start with Mrs. Vicki Hurwitz.  She'll be followed by Dr. Jane Norman, as well as Dr. Genie Gertz and Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly. I'll ask Mrs. Hurwitz to come to the stage.

VICKI HURWITZ:

Wow.  This is the first time that I've seen people sitting behind me and everyone on the stairs, hello everyone.  I'm very excited to be here this afternoon with this exhibit, and I can't believe the exhibit has come to full fruition.  I'm thrilled this is happening.  I'm speechless.  This is the first time about a month ago where I came over to take a look at the space and I saw the picture of myself up.  I wasn't expecting that at all, but it's here, and I still learn something new.  I don't know everything about deaf and women history.  I'm still learning. 

Meredith Peruzzi asked me to comment about how and why I established the Deaf Women Studies course and how I became involved with academics and the academic discipline of women history.  I was working at NTID in the student life department years ago.  Twenty‑five years ago, actually.  And someone asked me to substitute teach the women's ‑‑ I'm sorry, Deaf Heritage course at the time.  So I substituted in the course for 1 quarter, and I was sad to learn, and I noticed that there was no section on Deaf women, no section at all.  There may have been discussion about one woman here and one woman there, but not as a whole lesson.  So I decided to roll up my sleeves and establish and have a section on Deaf women. In my daily contacts with Deaf women and students at NTID at the time, a lot of these students, women, did not understand their own career goals.  They wanted to get married and have children and that was their plan.  They didn't know other Deaf women professionals.

And to make a long story short, I decided because of my past and my history and as a graduate student at RIT and a mother of two children I decided to take a course which required me to come up with a project.  So after thinking about the project, I decided to do a pilot course in Deaf Women's Studies.  That was the first of its kind in the 1993 time frame.  And the only course of its time all over the world. Then it became part of the Deaf Studies section and department at RIT.  I taught that course for twelve years before I handed it over to another professor, a Deaf woman herself actually. And shortly after I retired.

I'm very excited about all of this here, and I want to thank all of you who were involved with developing this exhibition. Thank you so much.  (Applause)  

MEREDITH:

Can I ask Dr. Norman to come to the stage, please.

DR. JANE NORMAN:

Well, there's no question today's a very special day.  There's so many people that need to be thanked that were involved in this effort.  First and foremost, I have to thank our alumni, Gallaudet's community, as well as all of our friends who immediately understood the importance of a museum and the importance of the role of the museum in the academic environment and to understand it's the easiest way to educate and most effective way to educate is through museum programs. 

So what we're doing today opening up this new exhibition called Deaf HERstory is very inspiring, because there hasn't been enough research or writing or publications to exhibit and demonstrate Deaf people and their successes.  There's not enough that's been written about what it's like to be a minority and to be part of a diverse population, and what it's like to be invisible.  It's challenging.  And now there's a lot more information being shared.  There's a lot more feelings and recognition to the stories that need to be shared and the stories that need to be told.  There's no question all of these experiences need to be shared, especially stories about women.  And stories about women that by habit have not been shared.  They've been buried and lost to us in the past, as if nothing ever even happened. So with that, it's our responsibility of the people here, the scholars here, the historians here, people that work in museums and who love stories, authentic stories, it's important for them to find and discover and bring forth these stories to the surface.  And bring life into those stories, and bring life to all of these stories so that young individuals, young women feel a sense of belonging.

I would like to quote one researcher.  This individual was an early pioneer in gender‑biased research, Maia Poluck Sadker and she wrote a good point and quote about women, and about why women's history is so important.  And I'm translating this as if from the view of a Deaf woman.  She said each time a girl, a deaf woman or girl, opens a book and reads a womanless Deaf history story, she learns that she is worthless. So with that, we have to embrace all of the stories about women from diverse backgrounds and put that back into history, because that will allow us to understand and recognize the power of women in their dreams, in their achievements, and their goals.  It's the same reason women here in America have worked so hard since 1996 to build a women's history museum here in Washington, D.C., just as a national women museum in history does not seek to rewrite other exhibits at other museums or decide to what to omit elsewhere to fit in, it may be fit in and it becomes centralized but also streamlined.  The goal is to become inclusive. 

Our Deaf HERstory exhibit expands our knowledge of American history and American Deaf history. These stories about Deaf women and hard of hearing women and DeafBlind women will come to surface in time with more research. We're going to encourage this effort, and in order to do so we need to look for stories that will inspire, motivate, and provide role models for all ages.  We must be vigilant in observing how our history is written and shared.

Just this month, Dr. Jane Fernandez became the first Deaf woman president of a college, and it's Gilford college in Greensboro North Carolina.  Today we stand with respect to three women presidential finalists of Gallaudet University. These stories make it clear that in our struggle for equality we learn that there are many different ways to be Deaf and we celebrate our differences. Having learned as a diverse minority, and many of us know what it feels like to be in that group, we believe that all the research about deaf women in the history that we must explore and find as well as document these stories of diverse deaf women who shatter the glass ceilings and break sound barriers.  Courageous women, many of them and many often act with quiet resilience, courage despite failures moving on.  Their integrity, their courage, and their stories provide historic role models for young, deaf women, as well as others. To help continue this effort and to continue generating the most successful stories and most powerful stories to be told, we must have feedback and support from Gallaudet University.  The community, including the alumni, faculty, staff, and students, as well as friends like you here today is important for us. For sure without the confidence and support of our alumni and friends we could not have this museum and the history exhibition.

Thank you Gallaudet University and especially we'd like to thank Ms. Vicky Hurwitz who served as an honorary chair for the friends of Gallaudet University museum.  It was her leadership and her support and wisdom that has served us so well for all this time.  She has worked through this effort while we built our permanent museum for Gallaudet's anniversary.  We also would like to thank Lisa Weyerhaeuser, class of '81, and her family for her continued support for the museum annex. Last but not least is Sharon K. Wood, class of '82 and '68 who wrote the early books on Deaf women.  So I'd like to thank Sharon as well.

And thanks to all of you.  I know you're going to enjoy this exhibition.  You will give us feedback.  We're looking forward to receiving your feedback. Thank you so much to the outstanding museum staff.

MEREDITH PERUZZI:

Thank you so much. Can I ask Dr. Genie Gertz to come forward, please.

DR. GENIE GERTZ:

Good afternoon, everyone.  I know that you're probably very anxious to see the exhibit.  So I will make my comments as brief as possible. 

I'm delighted and I am honored that so many of you have come out to this ribbon cutting. This exhibit reflects the stories and their documentation, how they are for us. You know the quote that history is written by the winners, which has resulted in being written from the position of those in the dominant majority, their interpretations, experiences are what gets recorded and taught as history, and that marginalizes all of the different diverse categories of people.  Different perspectives are lost to us.  The lives of different people.  Diversity is overlooked.  And intersectionality is not considered.

This exhibit is important to us for many reasons.  Many people who have been excluded from history, such as Deaf women, who have made important contributions to society.  Their experiences and struggles and overcoming those challenges are lessons that we can learn from, but only if they're documented and shared.  Unfortunately that hasn't often been the case, and as Jane said, I can't do justice to her beautiful poetry, but the sense of stories being buried and lost to us. This exhibit is an attempt to bring those stories to light.  To make sure they become part of our documented history. At the same time, this exhibit also reflects the academic work and opportunities that exist for our students and faculty to get involved in the field of research, of uncovering those important stories and doing that kind of analysis.  There's no better place to do that than here at Gallaudet University. 

I'm beyond delighted that this exhibit is here.  I hope that we will continue to write our HERstory and to make the mark that we have for history.  I want to thank all of you for coming, supporting this exhibit, and for supporting the work going forward. Thank you so much.

MEREDITH PERUZZI:

And last but not least, Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly, please come forward.

DR. ARLENE B. KELLY:

Wow.  It's so inspiring to stand up here and see so many friends and supporters out there.  My friends, we are finally here. 

This year marks the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage.  That's the right to vote.  This year is the 90th anniversary, and we are opening this exhibit this year.  That's a perfect confluence of events. Thirteen years ago I wrote a chapter "Where's Deaf History."  That was the title of the chapter.  And the answer is here in the exhibition.  I didn't know where to find women's stories.  As Jane said, they were buried.  They were overlooked and not considered. If you wanted to do research on women, you had to know the husband's name, because so many changed their name after marriage and are therefore lost to us as individuals. So that's been an ongoing issue for researchers.

About a year ago, roughly one year to the day, Meredith came to see me in my office, and asked me ‑‑ no, rather, she told me that this exhibit was going to happen.  Well, I couldn't have been happier to hear it, and we spent a productive time brainstorming ideas how to bring it to fruition.  It was especially exciting for me because I first met Meredith in 2008.  Wouldn't you say?  She was a Deaf Studies major when she was a student here at Gallaudet.  She was a student in my classes and she was also my academic advisee. Then she graduated with a Deaf Studies degree in 2011.  Here she is the Curator of the Museum.  I'm especially proud of that.  I saw this as an opportunity for us to collaborate again which I was very much looking forward to.

Shortly thereafter we had a meeting with Vicky and Jane and Genie and Carol, Meredith, myself we all got together and shared some ideas about what we wanted this exhibition to look like.  I did.  I came out of that meeting was the idea of creating an internship possibility for students to get involved.  So Deaf Studies majors here on campus have to do internships and we thought why not partner with that department and create that opportunity here with the museum. 

So after that meeting I had to find students who were in need of an internship before they graduated.  Sure enough, I found five of them.  They all happened to be women. That was not a requirement but they all happened to be women.  And that was in November and they started their internship in November.  So we got together.  We shared ideas.  We had to identify what areas they were particularly interested in in this exhibition.  As you see here, Women's Lives, Movement in Action, Education, Leadership, Religion, Health, the various themes helped build this exhibition.  One student was very interested in design and so this whole design was done by a student intern.

January 2015 to May, one semester, the five of them hit the ground running and produced this work.  It was a wonderful experience I think for all involved.  A wonderful journey. I want to say especially for Abby MacNamara who designed this exhibit.  She also had the opportunity to meet with the Blair, Inc. to negotiate and discuss those issues.  That was, I think, a very enriching experience for her. And then over the summertime we had to take down the exhibit that had been here previously and put this one.  It was about two months.  And the fall started and here was the exhibit and I was delighted to see it come to fruition.

In closing, I want to say that I'm just incredibly proud of Meredith and her staff.  I'm proud of the five interns, Abby, Mia, Jenny, Lisa, and Megan.  Now, of those five, four of them have graduated and they are on to other chapters of their lives.  One is currently a senior.  But one of them is coming back to school, graduate school.  So two of the five are still around campus.  In fact, they're here in the audience.  I think they might be hiding. Over in the corner.  Oh, there you are. They want to see you.  Come forward just for a moment.  Just give a wave to the crowd. And I'm really proud of Blair's involvement in building this exhibition.  So, again, the time could not be more fitting.  We're celebrating the anniversary of women's right to vote, deaf women's history, and we are not done.  This is just the beginning. Thank you so much for coming.

MEREDITH PERUZZI:

I'm sure you want to see the exhibit.  You've been sitting patiently and you're ready to see what we've created for you.  I would like to call the two interns who are here, Jenny and Megan, to help cut the ribbon to officially open this exhibition. The two of them did a tremendous amount for this exhibition so it's fitting that they're here to cut the ribbon.  So, please.

(Ribbon is now being cut)

Thank you so much. The exhibit is open.  Please take your time.  We do have some light refreshments in the back corner if you want before you head off to class on your next activity, but please do take some time and read the exhibit. Again, thank you so much for coming. Good‑bye.  Thank you.