BUG: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution

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He is a kind of Renaissance man—he plays and listens to music, takes photos. But his first love is football, especially tackling people, something he has been doing since strapping on pads in his peewee league. He chose Gallaudet, then, for one of the reasons many other mainstream-educated hard-of-hearing players do: lack of options. After C.


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All seven slots are freshmen who are fully deaf, or close to it. Most were educated in schools for the deaf where ASL was the primary language. The communication challenge that Coach Goldstein was talking about is how players like C. As a senior, C. At Gallaudet, this is what identity politics looks like. And every year, new players—like these seven slots—arrive, and the process begins anew: How do you merge two languages, two cultures, two approaches to the absence of sound? And it is in these moments of silence when what Gallaudet is attempting to achieve through its football program rings most profound.

A acre leafy island in Washington, D. Initially founded in as a school for deaf and blind children, the school had its collegiate charter signed by Abraham Lincoln in The origin story of deaf education in the United States is so vital to the community and the campus that, in my introductory class in American Sign Language, we learned how to tell it in sign. In France, he witnessed the educator Laurent Clerc teaching deaf pupils in sign language.

Gallaudet convinced Clerc to come with him to the United States, and together, Clerc and Gallaudet started the American School for the Deaf in Hartford in , teaching their students in sign. It was a method of teaching that traveled south to Washington, D. For this, many deaf people blame Alexander Graham Bell. Bell, an educator of the deaf married to a deaf woman his telephone stemmed from attempts to improve communication with her , spearheaded the oralist movement of the late 19th century and supported laws prohibiting the deaf from marrying each other in hopes of eradicating deafness.

Oralists believed the best way to educate the deaf was to force them to speak and teach them how to read lips. And though oralism triumphed nationally, sign language won out as the preferred method of communication at Gallaudet. Stokoe picked up patterns reminiscent of spoken languages, and he catalogued the many speech patterns embedded in signing, proving to the world how linguistically robust sign language is.

And though Gallaudet University recently marked its th year, its future is uncertain. As the number of deaf high schools in America dwindles and mainstream education increases, Gallaudet is struggling to maintain its enrollment. What does it mean to be deaf? When she left the table, he left the table. He received a cochlear implant soon after and wore it while receiving vocal training. He was mainstreamed at Catholic schools in Chicago, played football, and was heavily recruited.

He chose Gallaudet because on his recruiting trip, he saw people communicating in ASL and wanted to be a part of that. Reds plays middle linebacker and ultimately became a semifinalist for the prestigious William V. Campbell Trophy, an award that honors academic excellence in college football. Reds and C. Before there were telephones in homes, before there were airplanes and cars, before computers and hearing aids and cochlear implants, before penicillin and inoculations and brain scans, American football has been played under autumnal skies in Northeast Washington, D.

More than played, the game has been forged here. In , the Gallaudet quarterback, leading his team against another deaf school, grew concerned the opposing defense was stealing his signs. So he gathered his teammates together in a circle behind the ball—and the football huddle was born. Since then, like Notre Dame, Gallaudet has developed its own mythology: the Dirty Thirty , the Bison Dance , the importance of the blue Evans bass drum.

They became founding members of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference in , and that year Gallaudet went , its first winning season against solely Division III competition since The head coach moved on shortly after the season ended, and the program fell into the hands of two young coaches: Chuck Goldstein, who became the head coach and offensive coordinator, and John Davis, who became the assistant coach and defensive coordinator. Davis and Goldstein were football men, both hearing, who had played college football themselves. They ran schemes that fit their personalities.

Davis, full of passion and a measured aggressiveness, ran a blitz-heavy defense designed to create turnovers and wreak havoc.

Goldstein, more contained and precise—the kind of man who wipes a speck of dirt off his desk—ran the triple option, an old-school offense that emphasizes ball possession and assembly-line-like efficiency. Together they overhauled the Gallaudet University football program in significant ways, none more important than in recruiting.

BUG: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution

Most players, like most students, came from schools for the deaf across the United States. Davis and Goldstein knew that success in Division III depended on deepening their talent base, and they struck upon a revolutionary idea. In addition to recruiting deaf-school athletes, they planned to recruit hard-of-hearing athletes in mainstream schools across the country, players like C. They found and recruited these athletes in three primary ways.

And they consulted Barry Strassler, an extremely active Gallaudet alum who prides himself on finding the best mainstream, hard-of-hearing talent in the United States. The results of these efforts were recruiting classes composed of great athletes, many of whom could have played at Division I, Division II, or other Division III schools. They chose to come to Gallaudet for a variety of reasons.

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Some had poor grades and poor test scores and had trouble getting in to other colleges. Nonetheless, Gallaudet is still regarded as a fairly selective school. Some were wooed by Davis and Goldstein with the promise of immediate playing time. Others wanted the opportunity to be part of a community and culture that might be best suited to their educational and personal needs—the community and culture of the deaf.

Whatever the reason, the number of players on the team swelled, and the Bison became a polyglot of the deaf experience—deaf-school graduates fluent in ASL, mainstream-educated players who had never signed in their lives, and everyone in between. In and , Gallaudet went , but in , they jumped to Perhaps the greatest indication of their recruiting success was that from to , a Gallaudet player won the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference award for Freshman of the Year.

All this talent and skill culminated during the season. The Bison started the year , and media from across the country—including ESPN—became interested in the story of the Gallaudet football team. With a victory on November 9, the Bison won their conference championship and made the Division III playoffs for the first time in team history.

It was a win for the Gallaudet University football program, but it felt like something larger. Yes, it was a victory for people who had historically been mocked, dismissed, and marginalized throughout American history; but more importantly, it was a victory that represented the future more than the past. The team was composed of players from the deaf schools of America who had grown up culturally deaf and players from mainstream high schools who had been raised culturally hearing. It was a hopeful note that, if the university was going to open its doors to students who were not yet fluent in American Sign Language, perhaps the results could be as good in the classroom and on the campus as they had just been on the football field.

Next time, I know you will. We gave up last year. The season started poorly before it even began. Coach John Davis, who had been the heart of the team and its defensive mastermind, left to take a head-coaching position at a high school in Florida.

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Then, of the almost 18 freshmen Gallaudet had been counting on to return as sophomores, only five had the grades, temperament, and desire to return. The season was even worse. Halfway through, nine players were kicked off for violating team rules, and others were either injured or quit. By the last game, Gallaudet was playing with fewer than 30 players, the majority of whom were college freshmen: year-old boys playing against year-old men. The Bison went and were only competitive in one game.

Unlike the previous year, almost everyone returned for , and they were paired with an even more talented freshman class to boot. This season is perhaps the most important season in three years. On a team full of freshmen and sophomores, Coach Chuck needs to reestablish the identity of his college football program. After each game, the Bison award the Hammer to the player with the best hit of the game.

Because of his physicality, C. To make matters worse, Reds wins the Hammer, a smirk on his face as he goes down to retrieve it. In fact, for a long time, Gallaudet was hardly home to anybody at all. Two years later, Gallaudet achieved accreditation as a university, and enrollment slowly increased. Then, from to , Rubella broke out in the United States, deafening more than 8, newborns. Deaf consciousness had also grown, fueled both by the recognition of ASL as a language and by the civil-rights movements of the s.

By , as Gallaudet sought a new president, many in the deaf community felt Gallaudet was long overdue for a deaf leader. Two days later, the hearing president resigned and I. King Jordan, the College of Arts and Sciences dean, was named president. For the first time, the only university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing was led by a deaf man.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the DPN movement. Not only did the university meet the demands of the students, but Gallaudet hired more deaf faculty and saw a dramatic increase in its endowment. By broadening educational access and opportunities for deaf children, the Americans With Disabilities Act lessened the importance of all-deaf secondary schools and Gallaudet.

It was also around this time that cochlear implantation was approved by the U. Food and Drug Administration, making it easier than ever for deaf children to hear from an early age and attend mainstream schools. Enrollment figures at Gallaudet began to drop from a high of 1, And though last year marked a spike in enrollment that placed the undergraduate population at 1, students, Gallaudet has failed to hit undergraduate enrollment targets seven of the past 10 years.

Everyone on campus—from administrators to faculty to students—recognize that the existential challenge facing Gallaudet is how to attract students and, more broadly, which students to attract. In , hearing students were admitted for the first time. This is not without controversy, especially as it relates to students with cochlear implants, students like Reds. Cochlear implantation is an invasive surgery that places an implant into the cochlea, the spiral within the inner ear that contains the primary organ for hearing.

A processor close to the outer ear sends electronic sounds to the cochlear implant, which directly stimulates the hearing nerve.

What you think of this surgery depends, in part, on how you view deafness—as an identity trait or a problem to be solved. Many in the Gallaudet community see deafness as an identity trait, and they see American Sign Language as the primary expression of that identity. So do some in the hearing community. One hearing mother of a player on the football team told me she never considered implanting her son because it would be like changing his race. The argument, then, of who is deaf and how this deafness is expressed cuts to the core of language, identity, and biology and has deeply affected the Gallaudet community.

In , a series of protests over another school president erupted on campus. These elements, trends, and challenges reverberate on the football team. I have met mainstream-educated hard-of-hearing players who say they have found their true selves and a true home at Gallaudet. And I have met completely deaf, deaf-school-educated players who are both welcoming to their mainstreamed brothers and also skeptical of their commitment to ASL.

But football unites them—in fact, football seems to unite everyone. Heading into their Homecoming game, the Bison are , but their record is deceiving. Two of those losses should have been victories, if not for their young offense making ill-timed mistakes. More important than the wins, however, is that the team is forging an identity. Only a couple players have quit and, with the exception of Reds, who is out with a badly sprained ankle, the Bison have been relatively healthy.

BUG: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution

Just as noticeable, there is a strong balance between contributions from the completely deaf and those who are hard-of-hearing. Adam has dramatic, curly, multicolored dyed hair that sometimes gives him the look of a clown; and coaches are already pegging Eli as possessing that ineffable it quality, the leadership DNA that combines hard work, athleticism, smarts, and fun. If the team is to have success, it must have true balance, leadership, and athletic contributions from players like C.

This is how it was back in Coach Chuck walks in to G41, flicks the lights, and begins his Homecoming speech—telling the players this weekend is special, that everyone on campus is here to watch them play. I know it. Homecoming games are my favorite to cover. Before the game, I walk up to the top of the bleachers and watch as more than 1, people mingle in the road behind Hotchkiss Stadium.

Do you agree? For someone like me, a hearing man with no prior exposure to deaf culture, the signing is the most distinctive trait of the deaf community. Communicating in ASL is a full-body experience, at least from the chest up—it involves your hands, sure, but facial expressions like eye raises and brow crinkles are just as important. There is fluidity to it, like water, a creative expression akin to jazz. And its beauty is on full display in the silent national anthem, a moment that, no matter how many times I see it, brings me to the verge of tears. Gallaudet moves the ball well on their opening drive but has a field goal blocked.

After stopping Castleton University, their opponent, they get the ball back on their own yard line. The first play of the drive is a yard run by sophomore wide-receiver L.


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  8. Watson, who is the only fully hearing player on the team. After L. Dear Lord, in the battle of life. If I should win, let it be by. And if I should lose, let me stand by the road and cheer. Everyone, it does not matter if they are hearing or hearing impaired, needs and relishes encouragement for achievements. If the Deaf community wishes to be viewed as a distinct group yet part of the whole of society along with having their accomplishments acknowledged, then they also need to extend those attitudes to the d eaf community as well.

    Another way discrimination is expressed by the Deaf community is by their view of cochlear implants especially in infants and young children. Many of the children who are born deaf have hearing parents so it is natural that those parents would want to explore CI as one avenue in helping their child deal with the the loss of hearing.

    In past years the Deaf community has harshly criticized the practice of implanting infants and children. Sometimes parents when informed that their child is deaf will talk to members of the deaf community in seeking to make an intelligent informed decision concerning whether to implant or not, often this contact is not pleasant. I mean, we were called child abuser This is not saying that a child with half a limb is inferior and needs to be fixed but that they can have almost the same ambulatory capabilities as a child born with both limbs.

    The use of eye glasses would be another example of using technology in order to have ease in functioning. The lenses do not change the person who is wearing them but they do help to compensate for the loss of function in the eye. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this will not happen, especially in those areas of the world where medical resources are scarce and where adequate support services are not available. Goldstein Since most deaf children are born to hearing parents it is unlikely that there will ever by a time when deafness will be completely eliminated.

    In the area of education, there is little difference between the Deaf culture and anyone else in the rest of the world when it comes to discrimination. It is widely recognized that it is very important to early establish a form of communication such as signing with young children. This enables them to have a basis on which to build more advanced forms of language and increase their educational potential. They cannot later learn English because they lack the foundation to enable them to do so.

    The Deaf group which had been exposed to ASL have a proper foundation to learn English if they choose to. Everyone at the fictional d eaf club is of course hearingless yet there is a distinct stratification of the people there. Yet even in these settings marginalization and even segregation has occurred.

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    In times past some clubs prohibited women from joining as well as those of a differing race. Possibly they have spent most of their lives with the ability to hear to some extent and now find themselves unable to function as before in a hearing society. As a result of their hearing loss they also lose old friendships as well.

    Those within the Deaf community have not experienced this situation and therefore have no comprehension of the difficulty adjusting for the people involved. DeLora This can also lead to a superior attitude toward those d eaf who are struggling to adjust to this new way of life. Or the Deafest Win? It is available between races, sexes, and religions of the world. It takes place within these groups as well. Discrimination is not discriminating. The problem does not lie in the externals but rather in the internal of the heart and mind.

    Recognizing the value in the uniqueness of each person as a citizen of a particular culture is essential. So what is the answer to the problem of Deaf on d eaf discrimination? Works Cited.



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