Dear Gallaudet community:

We are announcing the establishment of a new Center for Black Deaf Studies. The center comes in response to the heightened interest in African and African American Deaf studies as an academic discipline and is the first step in creating and developing multicultural Deaf Studies centers over the next several years. This Center’s creation is especially timely in light of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Carolyn D. McCaskill, ’77, G-’79, & PhD ’05, has agreed to serve as the Center’s founding director. Dr. McCaskill, a tenured professor in the Deaf Studies program, is an internationally renowned authority on the Black Deaf experience and on Black American Sign Language. “The Center has been nearly a quarter century in the making,” says Dr. McCaskill. “In 1996, Black students petitioned the late Yerker J. O. Andersson, ’60 & H-’98, chair of the newly-established Department of Deaf Studies, to create a Black Deaf studies course. I was hired the same year, and created and taught our first Black Deaf People Studies course that fall. It is now a required course for Deaf Studies majors and minors. I am delighted to see the Center come to fruition. I thank President Cordano and Interim Provost Lewis for their support. I also credit Dr. Andersson for his foresight and vision 24 years ago.”

The Center for Black Deaf Studies will support teaching, learning, and research in Black Deaf Studies and other disciplines that benefit from a more comprehensive coverage of the Black Deaf experience, such as history, literature, psychology, sociology, and religion. Its aim is to preserve the history of the Black Deaf community, as well as Black Deaf education, culture and language. It will pay particular attention to the Black Deaf experience at Gallaudet University and the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, including the historic segregation of Black and white deaf students at Kendall School and the parent-driven push for integration. The Center will have an advisory board to provide guidance and consultation to the Center director on programs, policies, and procedures.

The Center proposes to conduct research on the experiences of Black Deaf people of African descent and offer a minor in Black Deaf Studies. It will promote the retention of Black Deaf and hard of hearing students through an innovative and high successful tutorial program. The Center also will organize lectures, films, speaker series, and discussion forums, and partner with community and campus organizations to sponsor lectures and workshops that create a better understanding of Black Deaf people in the wider social, economic, and political spectrum.

Academic programs

The Center will create and submit for Council of Undergraduate Education approval an interdisciplinary Black Deaf Studies major, grounded like all of Gallaudet’s programs in the liberal education tradition. Both existing and new courses will be part of the minor program.

Academic support

Dr. Martreece Watson of the English program created the ALLSTAR program for deaf, hard of hearing, culturally and linguistically diverse students of color and other marginalized students. Its mission is to strengthen comprehensive learning, cultivate academic skills, foster independence and confidence, and inspire lifelong learning. ALLSTAR offers mentoring and tutoring services in a collaborative, student-driven learning environment that promotes student success and college and career readiness. ALLSTAR will be housed within the Center for Black Deaf Studies, and will be augmented by a dedicated study area with a resource library and computer laboratory.


Dr. McCaskill, Dr. Watson, and Dr. Joseph Hill, G-’04 & PhD ’11, of Rochester Institute of Technology plan to create a Black ASL dictionary, and are applying for fiscal support for this endeavor. The Center, with robust student participation, will conduct and disseminate research on the history, language, and culture of the Black Deaf community. Presentations will be made both in academic and community settings. The Center will maintain an active online presence, and will disseminate its research widely.

The University is now determining the Center’s space requirements, and will identify a suitable location when the campus re-opens.

Says Dr. McCaskill, “It has been a lifelong dream of mine to showcase the hidden treasure of Black Deaf people. Establishing this Center sends the message that Gallaudet values and appreciates Black Deaf people and their history, language. and culture. It solidifies our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

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