Last night, the National Black Deaf Advocates [NBDA] published an open letter calling for the immediate removal of President Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano from the University President position for Gallaudet University. The open letter had a brief explanation for why the removal is necessary, and we would like to expand on it a bit more.
In the course of our interactions with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students, faculty, and staff for our previous investigations into the Kappa Gamma fraternity and the Department of Public Safety at Gallaudet University, we noticed a disturbing recurrent pattern. BIPOC students, faculty, and staff repeatedly approached President Roberta Cordano and the Board of Trustees through town halls, meetings, e-mail exchanges, and video calls on several concerns of systemic racism: the Department of Public Safety (view a good video example here), Resident Life & Housing, as well as hostile misconduct from White faculty, staff, and University administrators (i.e., the current Director of Public Safety, the current Director of Resident Life & Housing, the prior Dean of Student Affairs, and specific professors). All that effort for FOUR consecutive years and nothing substantial happened.
Not only was President Cordano well aware of the aforementioned issues, she repeatedly brushed off BIPOC voices and took deliberate action to sweep it all under the rug. This inexcusable conduct sent a clear message to the University administrators that they can get away with it too, and several of those administrators have done the same. Without further ado, we present you with a few videos and screenshots from BIPOC Deaf community members. Sheryl Emery has an excellent vlog — view it below!
Jamal Garner and Salima Ali wrote a few e-mails to President Cordano and Members of the Board of Trustees in early December 2018 and early February 2019, and the e-mail screenshots are available from a June 10 post on Jamal’s Facebook page. If you click on the link, one of the screenshots will pop up and you would need to swipe left or right to view all the other screenshots. Here is a short bullet-list summary of the important points made in the e-mails. (Jamal gave us permission to incorporate the screenshots.)
- The hiring process for the Dean of Student Affairs with Travis Imel was unethical and reeked of favoritism. (BIPOC students also raised concerns about the ethics of the hiring process with Dwight Benedict, the previous Dean of Student Affairs.)
- Repeated calls for the increase in numbers of BIPOC faculty and staff have gone unanswered for.
- Almost 40% of BIPOC students have been expelled or suspended from Gallaudet University just for simply trying to advocate for their own human rights. It appears that expulsion and suspension are strategies Gallaudet University uses to intimidate and retaliate against BIPOC students on purpose. How can BIPOC students expect to feel safe and be able to learn if their human rights are not recognized every single day?
This is just a scratch of the evidence. It is not enough to have just a Deaf President… the Deaf President must be inclusive with a serious investment in anti-racist work, too. Dear readers, if you are White… right now is the time to act and use your privilege to lift up BIPOC Deaf students, faculty, and staff at Gallaudet University! We made an e-mail template for you. You can copy and paste the template, make any changes you want to make, click “send,” and share this template with your network of family members, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
If you send the e-mail and share the template to call out President Cordano and the Board of Trustees, does it mean that you are “all done” being an ally to the community of BIPOC people who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing? No. Allyship is not a checklist. True allyship means that you unpack your privileges and you put in time and effort to use your privileges to end the systematic racism that is everywhere for the rest of your life. Every now and then, there are times where racism is obvious—one good instance is the past use of the salute and the KKK-style robes with the Kappa Gamma fraternity. Most of the time, however, the racism is subtle and that is even more dangerous because it can be difficult to identify and stop. Covert racism is all over the ways President Cordano, the Board of Trustees, and other Gallaudet University administrators run the campus, and that has to end. We encourage you to watch Andrea Alston’s story, as her story is one of many stories of covert racism.
Before you scroll down to the e-mail template, we want to quickly highlight two points here.
- Several BIPOC Deaf staff have dedicated their careers to Gallaudet University for decades and they are well-qualified to be the next Inclusive Deaf President. Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke is one example. If the Board of Trustees ever tell you that they are “unable” to find or hire qualified Deaf candidates of color from the pool of internal applicants who are existing Gallaudet University employees for the University President position, know this: they. are. straight. up. lying. to. you. They don’t want to admit they are racist, too.
- It does not matter if you are Deaf or hearing–you need to please slow down and take the time to think hard about what you do. Seriously. It can cause more harm than good if you rush on social media and say, “Hey, Person A did _______. Person A has to ________!” without even letting BIPOC Deaf people decide what actions or consequences they want to see happen. See the photo below, and look into restorative justice.
— E-MAIL TEMPLATE —
**DISCLAIMER: Full credit of this goes to the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA). Check out the BSU/SBG’s change.org petition and sign it. This e-mail template is only an opportunity for you to use your privileges in sending an additional reminder to the Board of Trustees and Roberta Cordano.** (A quick set up creating an email with all the TO, CC, and Subject Line info is available here.)
TO: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
CC: email@example.com, Brianne.Burger@ed.gov
SUBJECT: Immediate Call to Action for Black Deaf Students at Gallaudet University
XX June 2020
Dear Gallaudet University Board of Trustee Members:
My name is [NAME], and I am a [Deaf / DeafBlind / DeafDisabled / Hard of Hearing] [undergraduate/graduate student, employee, professor, alumnus/alumna, community member].
I am writing to remind you that, as Board of Trustee Members at Gallaudet University, you are morally and ethically obligated to serve and meet the needs of all students—most especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, or Hard of Hearing with LGBTQ+ identities. You must heed the messages of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff as well as the National Black Deaf Advocates’ [NBDA] Open Letter. The Open Letter was posted at 9:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on June 16, 2020, with a request for your response within the next 24-48 hours. I expect you to have responded by 9:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on June 18, 2020.
I demand that you take swift action with the following steps towards a more inclusive environment at the University, as taken from the Black Student Union / Student Body Government’s online petition and the NBDA Open Letter.
- Make a public acknowledgment in both written English and ASL where you take accountability for President Roberta Cordano’s failure to create a safe space for all people—most especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, or Hard of Hearing with LGBTQ+ identities.
- Remove President Roberta Cordano from the position of University President with a subsequent search for an Inclusive Deaf President (you may want to begin the search once Steps #1-6 are completed).
- It might be wise to put the hiring process for any position openings on hold for now–please do consult BIPOC voices for this. Bring in an external and independent third-party to conduct an extensive audit of the hiring process and internal files at Gallaudet University’s Human Resources Department. Have the third-party auditor submit a subsequent written report of the findings with recommendations of actionable steps for change towards equity in the hiring process.
- Meet with members of the Organization for Equity for Deaf Staff of Color without the presence of the University President or any other University staff.
- Meet with BIPOC students who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, or Hard of Hearing with LGBTQ+ members without the presence of the University President or any other University staff.
- Invite BIPOC students who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, or Hard of Hearing with LGBTQ+ identities as representatives for the University’s hiring process for all faculty, staff, and administrative positions possible—including the University President and the Board of Trustee positions. Their input must have a considerable influence on the selection process and the final decision.
- Introduce a mandatory requirement for all new and existing staff and faculty, including all Department of Public Safety personnel, to undergo comprehensive training. Training topic ideas would be power, privilege, oppression (including implicit/explicit bias, prejudice, and discrimination), the history and current affairs of race and ethnic relations, disability justice, and cultural humility. “Cultural competence” is no longer effective.
- Allocate a sufficient budget that allows for the expansion of resources and staff in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Allow the EDI leaders to exercise their autonomy.
- For the Department of Public Safety, fulfill the following requirements:
- When complaints of misconduct are filed, immediately place involved DPS officers on administrative leave and start an impartial investigation. Enforce appropriate consequences (i.e., suspension, termination) on the officers as necessary;
- Bring in an independent third-party to review the list of all persons not allowed on campus (Person Non Gratas).
- Require all DPS personnel to undergo training on a regular basis on nonviolent, non-physical methods to de-escalate conflict.
- Improve communication techniques between DPS personnel and students.
- Implement a zero-tolerance policy to end racism at Gallaudet University. Consult BIPOC students, faculty, and staff who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing students with LGBTQ+ identities for feedback on the specific consequences they would like to see implemented for incidents of covert racism and overt racism, to enforce community accountability.
A failure to meet all of the demands outlined above in a timely manner is a blatant failure on your part to see, recognize, and uphold the human rights of BIPOC students who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled or Hard of Hearing with LGBTQ+ identities. This is your chance to engage in restorative and transformative justice, and you would be remiss not to do so. As Martin Luther King once said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
[YOUR NAME] – [CITY, STATE]