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Many campus presentations during the month of February focus on the black community. At Gallaudet, a celebration of Black History Month kicked off on February 2 from a deaf angle with a panel presentation, “Gallaudet Dorm Life by the Decades: A Black Deaf Perspective.”

This was an important distinction, explained Thuan Nguyen, coordinator of residence education. “We learn a lot about black history in the U.S., but black deaf history is not as thoroughly covered,” she said. The event included perspectives from black University alumni from 40 years of Gallaudet history. The residence assistants of Peet Hall, who hosted the panel, helped fill in the gaps.

The panel featured Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, a professor in the American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Studies Program; Olugbenga Aina, director of the Keeping the Promise Program; Dorian Fletcher, president of the D.C. Area Black Deaf Advocates; and Lindsay Dunn, manager of education support programs in ASL and Deaf Studies. The audience members learned of McCaskill’s experience growing up in Mobile, Ala., during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, as well as Dunn’s witnessing the 1976 Soweto Uprising in his native South Africa. Both Fletcher and Aina, who grew up in Jamaica and Nigeria, respectively, and came to Gallaudet in the 1990s, spoke of their first encounters with racism when they arrived in the United States.

The program was important on several levels, said Nguyen. “All students need to understand the contributions of black people to the advancement of social justice in America,” Nguyen said. In addition, “Knowledge helps minimize racist incidents and it helps improve the quality of dorm life for black students. It also helps to make students understand they can be allies and they can help the University to remove prejudices.”

The audience was treated to a soul food spread during the afternoon presentation.

“Is Everybody Stupid?”

A lively speaker the following week focused on contemporary life, in particular the frenzied media landscape of today. Ise Lyfe, a spoken word artist, educator, and grassroots organizer, presented on February 8 with the provocative title, “Is Everybody Stupid?”

With acknowledgement of the history that shaped the black community in the United States, Lyfe delved into many topics, including rappers and the fans who make them stars. He used the words of superstar L’il Wayne–widely recognized as violent and oppressive to women, yet a best-selling artist–as an example. It was not just the lyrics, however.

“I could talk all day about the rapper, but I also want to talk about how we relate to the content,” Lyfe said.”…the rapper is only relevant because of the audience.”

Lyfe encouraged the audience to look critically at inequalities, and to act responsibly as pop culture consumers, Facebook users, and members of their communities.

The idea to bring Lyfe to campus came from two students who saw him at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education in spring 2010, said Elvia Guillermo, coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs (MSP). She was happy to have MSP sponsor the event and add to the February roster.

Teraca Florence, president of the Black Deaf Student Union, enjoyed the perspective that Lyfe brought. “He helped us think about our culture,” Florence said. “Not only black people, but all people of color. And it helped us to confront issues in the community.”

Seven steps toward success

MSP brought another leader to campus for the February 15 presentation, “The Art of Becoming a Successful Person.” The speaker was Benro Ogunyipe, who began by describing his own life journey as a deaf man from Nigeria. The speaker pursued his aspirations through leadership training, self-advocacy, and education to fund his own brand of success.

Ogunyipe then shared a list of seven traits of successful people. Such individuals know what they want, act rather than think, have an insatiable hunger for knowledge, are curious and are not afraid to experiment, build their networks, are passionate at what they do, and are persistent and patient. This approach comes from J.D.Roth, creator of the website GetRichSlowly.org.

“It is very powerful for Gallaudet to show support for minority groups,” Teraca Florence said. “I hope that it will continue to host this kind of event in the future.”

Guillermo was also pleased with the presenters during the month. “The more students increase their awareness of history and different cultures, the more they can appreciate differences in individuals,” she said. This philosophy drives all of MSP’s programming, including the ongoing Turn a Page Together reading group for students, faculty, and staff that features five books by authors of various backgrounds.

Campus programs like this will continue, Guillermo said, through the Students of Color Leadership Institute in March and Deaf Women’s Awareness Week in April. Other offices and programs will also offer activities.

–Rhea Yablon Kennedy

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