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Internationally acclaimed social activist Dr. Angela Davis left a strong impression among the Gallaudet community about the pursuit of social justice at a February 14, 2013 presentation, “The Indivisibility of Justice,” which was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as part of the University’s Black History Month celebration.

Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill said student leaders were eager for Davis to come to Gallaudet to share her message after they attended a presentation she made last year at the University of Maryland.
“Gallaudet has become a model for people everywhere who are striving to make justice a reality,” said Davis, who added that she has followed Gallaudet’s progress for equal rights for deaf people over the years.
One of the themes Davis included in her presentation was Martin Luther King’s observation that “justice is indivisible.”

“People on this campus have demonstrated through the defense of the rights of deaf people and the forging of a vibrant deaf culture, including a black deaf culture,” Davis said. “We cannot make the mistake … of assuming that democracy can work if it is confined only to a specific group of people.” Referring to Deaf President Now (DPN) she said, “It is wrong to exclude deaf communities and disabled people from the circle of justice,” and added, “Hearing social advocates have so much to learn about the collective and community-based approaches of the deaf community.”

Davis pointed out that President Abraham Lincoln signed Gallaudet’s charter at a time when slavery in the United States was in its final days. The previous year, 1863, Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves, and he fought to outlaw slavery by adding the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which was adopted in 1865.

Anthony DeFranco, a deaf studies major from New Jersey, felt a strong connection between Davis’ talk about civil rights and DPN. “Davis made me think a lot about the rights of deaf people. Civil rights in the 1860s inspired the 1988 DPN movement to take place,” he said. “We used justice to fight for our rights, and we won. That’s why we have had three deaf presidents. If DPN failed, we would not have had those three presidents.”
The night before her presentation, Davis was the guest at a dinner in the Kellogg Conference Hotel hosted by Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Diversity and Equity for Students (ODES), where she said she “had a wonderful, long conservation with student leaders” on the topic of social justice.

Among the 15 student leaders at the dinner was Student Body Government (SBG) Vice President Brandon Williams, a senior majoring in social work. “It was awesome. I liked her honesty, wisdom, and her deep understanding” of interactions between different groups of minorities, said Williams, who plans to work in social justice after he graduates. “I admire Davis’ passion for social justice.”

Jeremy Adams, another student leader who attended the dinner with Davis, gave her a book that he wrote, Liberation: Reflections of a 21st Century Deaf Black Man, following her presentation. Adams grew up hearing, but is now deaf. “Leaders definitely must come from both groups (deaf and hearing) to solve social inequality. We have to learn how to connect to each other,” Adams said. “I think Gallaudet teaches its students that they … must overcome so much. Here at Gallaudet I have mostly learned a great deal from my teachers … and push myself.”

Edgar Palmer, ODES executive director and a member of the Diversity Advisory Board, felt that through her campus presentation, “Davis helped us to think outside of the box,” he said. “There’s no single answer to such a very complicated issue, because everyone has a different perspective about social justice. We still have a lot of work to do, although I believe Gallaudet is very open to diversity. It’s an ongoing dialogue, like Davis said.”

On March 14, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will host a film screening, Lives Worth Living, about the struggle by the disability community to gain equal rights, at noon in Foster Auditorium. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Judith Heumann, special advisor for international disability rights with the U.S. Department of State; Claudia Gordon, special assistant to the director of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and a Gallaudet trustee; and Michael Winter, senior program analyst with the International Research Office, Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation.

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