- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Protesters who have been on a hunger strike for more than a week were the most visible demonstrators yesterday at Gallaudet University, where students and staff for weeks have been demanding the resignation of incoming President Jane K. Fernandes.

Most of the eight protesters on strike have not eaten in eight days. Some of them became ill Sunday and had to be evaluated by medical personnel.

Still, they said yesterday via sign-language interpreters that they will not give up until their demands are met.

“I know we will triumph,” said Thomas Simmons, a business administration student from Africa.

Gallaudet graduate Larry Vollmar, of Fremont, Calif., said he is protesting for his niece and nephew who attend the university.

“I feel the administration is very top heavy,” Mr. Vollmar said. “They need to take care of the students.”

He, Mr. Simmons and Al Jimenez of Mexico, said the group is willing to go hungry until Mrs. Fernandes steps down or is removed from the post she is set to take over from outgoing President I. King Jordan in January.

Students have protested Mrs. Fernandes’ appointment since the school’s board of trustees appointed her last spring to replace Mr. Jordan.

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

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 them from the building, they began blocking school entrances earlier this month.

A few days later, about 135 student protesters were arrested 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.

Last week, the school’s faculty voted 138-24 that Mrs. Fernandes should resign or be removed from the post. In addition, a vote of no confidence against Mr. Jordan passed by a vote of 80-60.

While the cold, windy weather kept many students, faculty, staff and alumni from the Florida Avenue gate yesterday, those participating in the hunger strike sat behind a plastic sheet under a canopy and kept warm in heavy blankets and sleeping bags.

Last night, a small number of students kept warm near a couple of heaters and a gasoline-fueled fire they had built in the street. Campus security told them to put out the fire after only a few minutes.

Gallaudet officials reported that the Student Health Services and Mental Health Center are checking on the strikers twice a day.

“Their vital signs are being monitored closely, and at this time, their signs are all stable,” officials reported.

“The students are drinking Boost [a high-protein shake], water, V-8 juice and chicken broth. Many of them are attending classes, and some have ceased participation,” according to medical personnel reports.

Meanwhile, a rally and a walkout scheduled for noon and 1 p.m. respectively did not go as planned yesterday. The walkout drew only about 50 protesters and lasted about 15 minutes.

About 80 students met in the Student Academic Center at about 9:30 last night to receive training in nonviolent protest techniques from an activist group.

“We are in a crisis and the board [of trustees] members need to take responsibility,” said graduate student Ryan Commerson.

Students and alumni celebrated homecoming this past weekend, even though Mr. Jordan canceled the activities last week.

He said the cancellation was prompted by protesters blocking the entry gates to the 98-acre campus in Northeast.

“It was a homecoming we will all remember,” said Alyce Slater Lentz of Fremont, Calif., who received undergraduate and graduate degrees in the 1970s. “I have been at the homecomings the last 12 years, and this was the best one.”

• Michael Hunsberger contributed to this report.

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