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Gallaudet Presidential Inauguration Celebration

VIDEO [CC] - Deaf News: Gallaudet University celebrates the first Deaf woman to serve as its president in the United States history.

WASHINGTON -- USA Today: About two weeks after she arrived on the campus of Gallaudet University last January, Roberta Cordano learned how the place works: The blizzard known as “Snowzilla” hit, knocking out power to much of the campus.

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Cordano, the school’s incoming president, invited 13 families to stay in her on-campus house overnight, where the next morning they produced a huge communal meal. When students realized that a school-issued emergency message didn’t include an American Sign Language (ASL) version, they produced one themselves, complete with captions.

“They really set the gold standard for establishing bilingual communication,” Cordano said. “There is no other place that I have experienced that would just delve into something, take care of things, figure it out.”

On Friday, Cordano’s appointment becomes official as Gallaudet, the world's only liberal arts university for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students, inaugurates her as its first Deaf female president.

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The move follows decades of political upheaval at the school, where over the past 30 years students have fought to give Deaf educators and students more control.

Established during the Lincoln administration in 1864, Gallaudet didn’t get its first Deaf president until the Reagan administration, 124 years later, in 1988 and only after raucous protests closed down the campus. The “Deaf President Now” protests, stretching over eight days, forced Gallaudet's board to name its first Deaf president, I. King Jordan, who served for 18 years.

In 2006, more protests erupted after the board named Provost Jane Fernandes to replace Jordan. As in 1988, students blocked the main gates of the campus, and “Deaf President Now” morphed into “Better President Now.” Though all three finalists in 2006 were Deaf, students feared that Fernandes might not be their strongest advocate. Some wanted a candidate who had grown up Deaf and relied solely on ASL - Fernandes had learned to sign when she was young and could communicate well by speaking or by signing, The Washington Post reported at the time. The board eventually named Robert Davila to replace Jordan.

The power struggles are actually the natural result of the linguistic issues the Deaf community has experienced for more than a century, Cordano said.

“It took 100 years here in the (United) States until American Sign Language was recognized as a language, just like English, having its own grammatical structure, its own rules, all the linguistic markers you would find in any other language,” she said. “What’s fascinating is that it took 100 years for us to change the perspective from, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of gestures,’ to actually seeing it’s a legitimate language.”

From there, she said, it was a short step to political activism and a push for self-determination. Understanding Deaf Culture, she said, made outsiders realize that Deaf people have something worth protecting: “If you have a language, then surely there must be a culture - there must be literature. And of course we realized the Deaf community has culture and literature and storytelling. And from there that’s been followed by the civil rights movement.” ... Read More at USA Today.
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