- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

The impasse between Gallaudet University students and the administration entered its ninth day yesterday, as protesters prepared for a march on Capitol Hill to draw attention to efforts to oust incoming President Jane K. Fernandes.

A few hundred students and alumni converged on the Northeast campus to celebrate homecoming, though most events were canceled by outgoing university President I. King Jordan earlier this week.

Protesters held a candlelight vigil on campus last night. They walked up to the president’s house and knocked on the door, but no one answered. This morning, protesters plan to march to the U.S. Capitol.

University spokesman Mercy Coogan said the university was looking into hosting the homecoming football game at an off-campus site.

Mr. Jordan on Tuesday postponed homecoming activities because protesters have blocked all but one entrance to the school, Miss Coogan said.

The protesters — students, several members of the faculty and alumni — are demanding the resignation or the removal of Mrs. Fernandes, who is scheduled to take over as president in January.

The protests stopped during summer break but resumed this fall and included a student takeover Oct. 5 of Hall Memorial Building, where many classes are held. After bomb threats forced students from the building, they began blocking school entrances last week.

The protesters blocked the gates starting Oct. 11. A few hundred protesters have appeared at daily rallies on campus.

About 135 student protesters were arrested Oct. 13 after they were given several warnings to stop blocking a side entrance to the school, the country’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing impaired.

The students say that a lack of diversity among the candidates and Mrs. Fernandes’ unresponsiveness to their needs and concerns are among their major complaints.

Mrs. Fernandes has been a university official for 11 years, the past six years as provost.

Graduate student Ryan Commerson, 30, said protesters take exception to the way they’ve been portrayed by administrators.

“The administration is continuing to threaten us,” he said. “They call us a mob, calling the situation anarchy and calling us terrorists. We see families, faculty and alumni here who cherish this university. There [are] no acts of terror here.”

At a press conference yesterday, students and alumni railed against Gallaudet Trustee Ken H. Levinson, who protesters said referred to deaf persons who use sign language as “dumb.”

Delia Lozano-Martinez, an education major from New Mexico and a mother of two deaf children, called for Mr. Levinson’s resignation from the board.

“My children are not dumb,” she said. “That kind of comment is unacceptable. My children know three languages. So are my children dumb? No.”

Miss Coogan said Mrs. Fernandes has made efforts to get closer to students this semester by teaching an introductory class for incoming students. She said Mrs. Fernandes plans to address the students’ concerns such as diversity on campus and setting a definitive proficiency level of American Sign Language for the school’s security guards.

“She knows that she has a tough row to hoe,” Miss Coogan said. “She’s a tough determined person and one of the hardest workers I’ve seen. She’ll do whatever it takes.”

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