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“We are no longer that ‘little college for the deaf in Northeast DC.’ We are an internationally-recognized beacon of hope that is producing some of the best research, teaching, learning and community engagement. It’s an exciting time to be connected and involved with this great University.”

President Roberta J. Cordano, in her first State of the University address on February 4, 2016

Cordano consistently shows a desire to connect with the Gallaudet community through knowledge sharing and dialogue, demonstrated by the inauguration events leading up to her installation on Friday, September 30, 2016-and with the final event of inauguration week: Gallaudet Conversations Across Nations (Gallaudet CAN).

Gallaudet CAN brings together alumni and friends for lively, thought-provoking conversation. Discussions are limited to 10 people per group to allow full participation. Throughout the country and at international sites, discussions were held at deaf clubs, community centers, schools, and even at the homes of alumni. The settings are informal and friendly, and refreshments are served.

“Gallaudet CAN is about coming together to develop a network of ideas, share our thoughts and opinions, and to shape our future through conversations that matter,” said Cordano in her Gallaudet CAN website video.

The inaugural Gallaudet CAN, which took place on October 1, 2016, had hundreds of participants on-campus, nationwide, and internationally discuss the topic “Deaf Community or Signing Community?”

Gallaudet junior Zoe Rodriguez and Stephen Hlibok, ’85 (president of the D.C. chapter of GUAA) introduced Cordano to the Gallaudet CAN on-campus attendees prior to group discussions. In her welcome, Cordano shared her inspiration for Gallaudet CAN.

In the early 1990’s, Cordano read an article about the use of salons-gatherings of people to increase knowledge and share ideas through influential conversation. Cordano followed by developing deaf culture salons in Minnesota, which still exist today.

“During my interview, I mentioned to the Board of Trustees this idea of having the GUAA (Gallaudet University Alumni Association) assist the University in pulling together a salon, not only here at Gallaudet but with people around the world,” said Cordano.

Through discussions with Gallaudet community members, including Charity Reedy Warigon, ’89 & G-’97, senior engagement officer, Institutional Advancement and CAN committee chair, and Samuel M Sonnenstrahl, ’79 & G-’84, executive director of Alumni and Donor Programs and the GUAA, this program gained its identity.

“We began to pull together a team of people who became a committee to organize this event,” said Cordano. “The committee suggested that we get rid of the word salon and call it Gallaudet CAN.”

Gallaudet CAN produced lively, stimulating dialogue. Amy Cohen Efron (’89, G-’90, & ’92) facilitated the Gallaudet CAN discussion in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The experience as a facilitator was very positive one!” said Efron. “There were 10 people who participated in this meeting, and the conversation we had was very lively and thought-provoking.”

From the exit survey taken by participants, 94 percent said they would most likely participate in future Gallaudet CAN events. Many desired more time for topic discussion. Survey participants repeatedly said that Gallaudet CAN was invigorating, enriching, and stimulating.

One respondent said, “This was a good discussion that showed much concern about the future of our community.”

Another said, “This was a good experience to share opinions and stories — this must continue.”

More than several embraced Gallaudet CAN as a “safe place” for discussion.

Of the GUAA chapters, 73 percent participated, including those from Canada (Alberta and Ontario), Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and Nigeria. In all, over 700 people attended Gallaudet CAN within 42 sites nationally and internationally.

Excited with the success of the first ever Gallaudet CAN event, the current committee is evaluating the possibility of future Gallaudet CAN events. The inaugural Gallaudet CAN committee members were:

  • Warigon
  • Sonnenstrahl
  • Storm Smith, ’10, creative video producer, Office of the President and Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center
  • Julie Greenfield, ’95, inauguration coordinator
  • Glenn Lockhart, ’98, director, Public Relations and Communications, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center
  • Kaitlin Luna, Public Relations and Media director, University Communications
  • Phil Dignan, senior writer/ editor, University Communications

Photos by Zhee Chatmon

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