What They’re Saying in Philly – Tent City Philadelphia Recap

Tent City Philadelphia was a remarkable success. Although plans had been underway to some extent beforehand, the arrests at Gallaudet (including at least three with Philadelphia connections: Chris Corrigan, Kyron Egnatovitch and Carrie Lindemann) indicated an urgent need for Philadelphia to get involved. The sudden turn of events led to Tent City Philadelphia being organized relatively quickly – and held on a weekday, no less (Wednesday, October 18).

In spite of the last-minute plans, Tent City Philadelphia had an impressive turnout of 62 people (64 if you include Katherine Feldmann’s two deaf dogs, Marley and Murray). Everyone gathered at Fairmount Park’s Belmont Plateau, a fitting location what with its inspiring view of the Philadelphia skyline. The event raised a total of $360 for the Gallaudet FSSA. Cren Quigley and Newby Ely took on the responsibility of bringing the money to the FSSA on homecoming weekend.

Oops, what’s that, you say? Homecoming was cancelled? No matter. Quigley and Ely, along with thousands of others, went anyway.

The event was initially organized by Feldmann and Quigley. Soon afterward Ely, Bob Shilling, and Mark Drolsbaugh got involved. Jami Clark assisted with directions that were included in the press release. Kudos to Charles McGowan, Rachel Rivera, and Bob Shilling for circulating the release so that enough people were able to attend. Numerous others showed up early and helped erect a huge tent.

Many people shared their amazement at the power of the Internet. They reminisced how in 1988 everyone anxiously awaited news about the DPN protest that was relayed via TTY, television and newspaper articles.

Today, word spreads instantly all over the globe thanks to pagers, e-mail, and frequently-updated blogsites. Several people made reference to RidorLIVE, Deaf in the City, Mishka Zena, Elisa Abenchuchan, and Gallaudet University FSSA. More and more blogs have been set up and it’s impossible to mention each and every one of them -- but you can still find them all at DeafRead, a remarkable central hub through which all of the latest blog entries are posted.

Thanks to the deluge of incoming information, electronic or otherwise, virtually everyone had something to say. Among the many topics of discussion at Tent City Philadelphia:

• The protest is not about Dr. Jane K. Fernandes’ allegedly being “not deaf enough.” People from all backgrounds – deaf, hearing, hard of hearing, late-deafened, CI users, and people with varying sign language ability are all citing concern.

• The selection process appears to be flawed. That Dr. Roz Rosen (another Philadelphia connection, by the way) and Dr. Glenn Anderson did not make the final round is very puzzling, especially considering how one of the three finalists did not have a Ph.D.

• It was acknowledged that on paper, Fernandes is indeed a qualified candidate. But leading Gallaudet University requires additional leadership qualities that include being an ambassador for the worldwide deaf community. The outcry from the campus community and numerous dignitaries raise concern over whether or not Fernandes can be such an ambassador.

• This is clearly a time of crisis. It is often said that times of crisis are when a leader’s true character emerges. Sadly, there have been complaints that the Board of Trustees and Fernandes have not been proactive enough – in fact, they’ve been accused of being aloof – which raises even more concern.

• When protesting began last May, some of us didn’t take it seriously. We know that a presidential selection is not a popularity contest. Not everyone likes their boss. But the opposition kept growing and growing to the point where even the most detached observer could not help but take notice. The resulting fragmentation between the Gallaudet administration and its students – as well as fragmentation in the deaf community at large – is something that can no longer be ignored. We need to strive for unity.

• It’s amazing how the deaf community takes ownership of Gallaudet University. Homecoming was cancelled by the administration but the alumni said the show must go on. It is for this reason you can’t say “If you don’t like it, get out” to Fernandes’ opponents. You can easily transfer from one hearing university to another; Gallaudet, on the other hand, remains the only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students. The deaf community, then, has a vested interest in what goes on at Gallaudet.

• We live in a “Next Question” era of leadership. (This is in reference to NFL diva Terrell Owens' agent Drew Rosenhaus putting on a positive spin for his client but repeatedly saying “Next question” whenever a reporter directly asked about Owens' glaring behavioral issues.) The Board of Trustees and the Gallaudet administration have “next questioned” us enough already. It is time for real, genuine dialogue.

All in all, Tent City Philadelphia was a fantastic event. Although the primary goal is for resolution of the situation at Gallaudet, several people in attendance expressed belief that this crisis can also serve as a springboard for a stronger Philadelphia deaf community. That so many people were able to gather at last-minute notice on a weeknight speaks volumes. The same thing applies to the numerous other Tent Cities all over the world. City by city, we are growing together into a united global deaf community.