Areas of Study

Throughout Thursday morning, July 10, nearly a dozen workshops offered 150th Reunion attendees the opportunity to learn more about various facets of Gallaudet and its impact on the deaf and hard of hearing community as well as on the world over the past 150 years. Workshop topics ranged from socioeconomics to linguistics and history, both on and off campus.

A Portal to Education … An Extension of Opportunities

Attendees learned about what Gallaudet University Regional Centers around the country are doing to reach out to and support deaf and hard of hearing people, their family members, and professionals who work with them.

Lisa Jacobs, ’81 and Director of the Office of Regional and National Outreach at Gallaudet, and Arlene Gunderson, ’01 and Director of GURC-Southwest in Austin, Texas, described some of the resources and ongoing initiatives at the various centers. The centers do a lot more than just identify prospective students and help them apply to Gallaudet.

“Gallaudet is more than just a university,” Jacobs said. “It serves the nation through community and continuing, professional and family education programs, including extension courses at centers and remote sites as well as webinars.”

These programs include a Deaf Women’s Leadership Seminar in Austin, which trained about 20 women from throughout the Southwest region who then gave mini-workshops to other women in their home states. GURCs also help send deaf role models to schools to speak to students, host youth training programs such as a Teen Get-Away Weekend, family sign language programs, Shared Reading Saturdays – which help parents, including Spanish speakers, learn American Sign Language (ASL) and teachers to learn the 15 principles of teaching bilingually in ASL and English. Center staff also work to bring in deaf speakers to statewide conferences for parents and professionals.

“Parents need to see deaf people [in order to] to believe in their own children,” Gunderson said. “We are the arms and legs of Gallaudet, bringing the resources of the University to the community.”

Gallaudet’s ASL Roots to Today’s ASL Curriculum

There were many approving nods in the crowd as presenters highlighted past and future pedagogical impacts of an ASL curriculum. The workshop opened with a quote from Leanne Miller, of the Ontario College of Teachers.

“Every student deserves to learn the history of their language and its people, the richness of its expression, the beauty of its purity,” said Miller. “And they deserve to learn their native language, be it English, French, or ASL.”

Presenters were Heather Gibson, ’82; Helen Pizzacalla, ’76; Shelley Potma. ’89; Jenelle Rouse; and Debbie Sicoli, ’96.

The presenters focused on the evolution of momentous societal and legislative events that influenced various ASL teaching models throughout time. Beginning with William Stokoe Jr.’s early work in sign language linguistics, they analyzed ASL within an evolving sociocultural context, but still paid homage to the many historical figures who first established the grave importance of language as a foundation to cultural representation and communal interconnectivity.

Throughout the workshop, presenters focused on the basics of instructional approaches to ASL, ASL literary critique, and expectations in elementary and secondary ASL curriculums.

Who Are Students Today?

In an in-depth and data-driven analysis of the trends in higher education amongst deaf students, Charity Reedy Warigon, ’89 & G-’97, described the reasons behind the ebb and flow of enrollment patterns at Gallaudet and possible ways to achieve increased graduation rates.

A very active and involved audience posed questions, shared experiences, and offered advice in a lively discussion-focused presentation.

The difference between liberal arts and technology-focused college educations was a particularly lively topic of discussion. Many people view the two as opposites, with the former very general and open-ended, while the latter suggests specialized skills and techniques for more direct entrance into the workforce because of higher demand and higher annual salaries.

This is one cause of some recent decline in enrollment at Gallaudet, along with more general explanations: economy, smaller numbers of deaf and hard of hearing high school students due to lower birth rates, vocational rehabilitation budget constraints, and policy changes.

Reedy shared University data for 2007-2013, broken down by traditionally underrepresented student groups, hearing students, deaf and hard of hearing students, and new signing students.

She wrapped up the workshop with a discussion about how alumni can influence these numbers and help spread the word about the unique value of a Gallaudet education. These actions include being aware of changing laws, demographics, and educational needs; being an active alumni ambassador; donating to scholarship funds, and sharing your personal Gallaudet stories with a strong and positive message.

From Internment Camps to Gallaudet: Three Deaf Japanese Americans
On a more serious note, a rapt audience listened as Newby Ely, ’78, described the harrowing experiences of Deaf Nikkeis (Japanese-Americans) after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Nikkeis, who mainly lived on the West Coast and in Hawaii, were incarcerated and sent to concentration camps across the country. A total of 48 deaf and eight hard of hearing Nikkeis who were incarcerated have been identified through the National Archives. About 2/3 of those Nikkeis were born in America.

One Nikkei family, the Ikeda’s, had all deaf members. Nancy Ikeda Baldwin, ’61, and Ernest Ikeda, ’59, shared their experiences in separate videos. Ernest said his initial experience of incarceration was one of feeling lost and unsure of what was happening. He saw people packing and boarding a train, and he did not really know what would happen next. “We arrived at Tule Lake Prison, where we (deaf children) were placed in a special school. We learned English, math, and other basic subjects. … We were transferred to another concentration camp in Arkansas, where we stayed for three months,” he said. Nancy said the only thing she really remembers “was being hurt by the shots the doctors put in me. I played with my deaf siblings to try and make things better. I feel like us deaf inmates suffered doubly more than hearing inmates.”

After the Ikedas and other Nikkeis were released, many deaf schools across the country refused to allow them to enroll, including the California School for the Deaf (Berkeley/Fremont), Kendall, the Oregon School for the Deaf, and the Colorado School for the Deaf. The Ikeda children eventually went to Illinois School for the Deaf and became successful adults.

“What the Ikeda family went through, the suffering they endured, makes me sad,” said Valerie Herbold, ’74, who knows Nancy Ikeda personally. “If I were in their shoes, I don’t know what I would have done, frankly. I’m so proud to know Nancy and the Ikeda family. I’m proud of them for getting through the struggles they had to suffer through.”

Gallaudet Athletics: Then and Now

Gallaudet University Athletics Director Michael Weinstock,’81 G-’84, offered reunion attendees an overview of the history of Bison athletics.

Weinstock showed the audience, many of them alumni, pictures of what old athletic facilities looked like and how they have changed and improved over time. Weinstock showed how the recent successes by many of Gallaudet’s athletic teams have led to national media exposure for the athletics department and the University. The improvement in the athletics facilities, the increase in staffing, and national media exposure has made an immediate impact in recruiting future Bison student-athletes, he said.

He also discussed the change to the current GU Bison athletic logo that took place six years ago.

The presentation concluded with a lively question-and-answer session. During this time, Weinstock officially introduced the University’s new mascot, “Gally.” The old Bison mascot costume was dated and very worn, he said, so a new design with a more modern design with a fierce and strong look was created. Gally was a big hit with those in attendance as many waited to have their photos taken with Gally after the session concluded.

The Globalization of Gallaudet

Dr. Donalda K. Ammons described the cultural evolution of Gallaudet, beginning in the 1950s, when the University began admitting students from other countries.

The workshop appropriately was in Foster Auditorium, named after Andrew Foster, the first black man to graduate from Gallaudet and one of the driving forces behind the founding of 30 different schools for the deaf throughout Africa.

Several different events broadened the horizons of Gallaudet students and the community at large, Ammons said. These included the International Games for the Deaf in 1965, the World Federation of the Deaf Congress in 1975, Deaf President Now in 1988, Deaf Way in 1989, and Deaf Way II in 2002.

Currently, students from 52 countries are enrolled at Gallaudet, and the English Language Institute works with many of them. Gallaudet students also enjoy easy access to international internships and opportunities that expose them to a wide range of multicultural experiences and international cultures.

Preserving Your Valuable Heirlooms and Tidbits of Gallaudet History

Don’t use paper clips or rubber bands. Avoid direct sunlight and basements. Beware of insects. Use white gloves. Those were just a few tips from Mike Olson, ’79 and interim director of Gallaudet’s Deaf Collections and Archives, the world’s largest collection related to deaf history. Olson provided a list of dos and don’ts when it comes to preserving papers, photographs and objects, especially if you want to donate them to an archive or library. He recommended purchasing acid-free containers and slipping papers and photos into clear, archival plastic pouches. Store heirlooms in a dark, cool first-floor closet at an ideal temperature of 70F and humidity level of 50 percent to 60 percent, the same conditions within the Collections and Archive’s vault in the Merrill Learning Center.

Olson often faces challenges with preserving items donated to the archives. Many documents and photos arrive with water damage or mold. Others have been munched on by bugs. Some are beyond repair. Those that can be cleaned, Olson either does it himself or, if they are beyond his abilities, he sends them out to professionals. Often, he photocopies the originals and discards them so they don’t contaminate other documents in the archives. Whatever the condition, the archives always welcomes donations that are related to the deaf community and deaf history in any way – from deaf schools and ASL to oral schools. Olson stressed the importance of donating during your lifetime rather than leaving it to your children, lest important historical documents wind up in the trash – something he’s seen happen all too often.

A Closer Look at Laurent Clerc’s Perceptions of Sign Languages

Laurent Clerc’s childhood particularly informed his perspectives on language, particularly sign language. Presenters Albert Hlibok and Christopher Kurz described Clerc’s experiences growing up in Paris and his training by Jean Massieu, as well as his exhibition tour in England. They also explained some of Clerc’s perspectives on language, particularly concentrating on Clerc’s view of natural languages versus artificial languages. Clerc believed that natural languages were just as important as spoken/written languages, including gestures of the eye, the face, and the hands. He viewed artificial languages as including imitated or borrowed languages.

One of Clerc’s favorite sayings was, “In making use of the natural language of signs, we could establish a rapid and universal system of communication.” His perspective also dictated that natural language could be used for conversations about various topics, including religion, and that people perceived him as a natural master of methodical systems of signs.

Black ASL: A Sociolinguistic Overview

Based on The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL, Its History and Structure, this workshop sought to examine the differences in the black deaf experience, which resulted in a distinct and recognizable form of ASL. The panelists – Carolyn D. McCaskill, ’77, G-’79, Ph.D.-’05; Joseph Hill, G-’04, Ph.D. ’11; Ceil Lucas – presented research, which included video aids, that showed unique elements in sociohistorical contexts that contributed to social and geographic differences.

With such a strong history specific to the African-American experience, many linguistic traditions emerged in black deaf communities. This was especially present in the segregated school systems that lasted well into the 1960s in some states, the panelists explained.

However, past and current research have found that Black ASL is changing due to desegregation and mainstreaming. A four-year project interviewed 96 deaf African-American in two age groups in six of the 17 states where schools were racially segregated. The comparison of these two groups helps explain how some signs were created and remained in use or disappeared over time. These features include two-handed vs. one-handed signs, signs that occur at forehead level vs. lowered, size of signing space, amount of mouthing, and the incorporation of African-American English into signing.

How Gallaudet University has Contributed to Socioeconomic Development in the Deaf Community

In a look at deaf history, Stephen Hlibok, ’84, used a three-tier model of empowerment, social responsibility, and education to explain how the Gallaudet University community has contributed to socio-economic development in the deaf community

A historical look from this perspective reveals the sizable impact Gallaudet has had and important people such as William Stokoe, Jr., founder of sign language linguistics, and Jay Cooke Howard, who through the Gallaudet Investment Club was able to collect and document financial contributions made by members of the community and donor corporations.

David Peikoff, ’29, created the Graduate Scholarship Fund, which has helped thousands pursue terminal degrees, and Boyce Williams, ’32, is widely considered the “father of vocational rehabilitation.” The impact of Deaf President Now sent a worldwide message of empowerment and unity for the deaf community and was influential in the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

The consistent production of leaders in the Gallaudet community remains strong, Hlibok said, and consistent results in education over the years has allowed professionals to gain momentum in communication sectors such as film and TV, giving the deaf community more exposure to the public and providing more accurate depictions of the deaf experience.

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