Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The protest over incoming Gallaudet University President Jane K. Fernandes became heated yesterday as school officials tried to reopen one of the gates that students had been blocking for more than two weeks and protesters tried to take over an administration building.

A large earth-mover scooped up tents that the protesters had set up near the Brentwood Road gate and the students’ belongings before it started to lift a fired-up grill which protesters had been using to stay warm. Metropolitan Police and the D.C. fire department were called.

Four students were injured during the confrontation.

Graduate student Brian Morrison, 23, of Fremont, Calif., said he was injured when the steel gate was moved back and its wheels rolled over one of his toes.

“I was just standing there peacefully holding the gate with my arms and got injured doing so,” he told the Associated Press.

Others suffered bruises and their clothing was torn.

Trevor Baldwin, 20, a sophomore from Indiana said the situation happened “very, very fast.”

“They were throwing things at my tent … They were very physical,” he said, describing how officers pulled him off the metal gate.

Dexter Jones, 20, a sophomore from Florida, said he was standing next to a police car when an officer opened the door, bruising his leg and tearing his jeans.

“It became chaotic,” said freshman Sean Stone, 18, of Phoenix, adding that a truck backed up against him. “There was no warning. Now we feel we cannot trust the system.”

A D.C. police sergeant said authorities considered arresting some protesters.

Some injured students later met with lawyers.

“We definitely will pursue charges,” said Ryan Commerson, 30, a graduate student. “What happened this morning was appalling.”

Christopher Corrigan, 20, a junior who has been dubbed “mayor of tent city” at the Florida Avenue main entrance, said the students didn’t retaliate.

“We have proven this is not a safe environment,” he said.

He and other students emphasized that school officials promised to meet with protesters before reopening any other gates.

The confrontation at the Brentwood gate came after students and other protesters demanding Mrs. Fernandes’ resignation or removal occupied the school’s College Hall, an administration building, early yesterday morning. They left the building before school officials arrived. Campus security had to remove doors the protesters had locked.

About 50 students left College Hall at about 4:30 a.m. There were no reports of damage.

Some students said the first floor of College Hall was taken over for about four hours to send a message to the Board of Trustees, which is set to meet Sunday to consider the protest and the selection of Mrs. Fernandes.

Mrs. Fernandes is to take over the presidency in January when outgoing President I. King Jordan steps down.

Students have protested Mrs. Fernandes’ appointment since the school’s Board of Trustees appointed her last spring.

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

At a meeting last night in the Student Academic Center, faculty and staff members encouraged the students to “always take the high road.”

“Our hearts are really breaking over this issue,” said Jeff Lewis, a faculty member.

He told students that faculty continue to teach because they do not want to violate their contracts and lose their jobs.

Mr. Lewis estimated that about 500 people attended the meeting.

Staff members asked students to be visible when members of the Board of Trustees arrive.

Faculty members also told students that they have a “major” law firm interested in advising the students legally on their First Amendment right of free speech but would not give more details.

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, more than 100 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, a majority of the school’s faculty voted that Mrs. Fernandes should resign or be removed from the post.

Before a meeting last night, a group of students, alumni, faculty and staff said the takeover of College Hall and the confrontation at Brentwood gate will intensify the protest.

“We are protesting because the administration has made it so that is the only way that we can have a say about our future,” Mr. Commerson said.

• Michael Hunsberger contributed to this report.

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