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All politics is local.

Dr. Jane Fernandes was chosen last semester by the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees to replace their outgoing president, who was the first deaf president that this Deaf (deaf? oh, issues of identity...) university has had. Debates have been rampant, as myriad students and staff do not think that she was the right choice (others, of course, are willing to give her a chance).

Student began protesting last spring, were interrupted by the summer, and began again last week, building a tent city on the lawn and even locking themselves into a classroom building on Thursday. It's an impressive sign of student involvement, and when the anti-Fernandes stance was explained to me in sign language, I found myself agreeing (I waver back and forth). It doesn't translate well, cross-linguistically or cross-culturally, and the coverage in the hearing press is bound to create only a sort of "whoa, look at those crazy disabled folk, protesting because their president isn't disabled enough!" reaction. It's not nearly as simple as it sounds.

It is as if Brigham Young University decided upon a President who was culturally Jewish and spoke Polish as a native language, only had his/her first real interactions with Mormonism and English in his/her twenties, now speaks English (though with a rather strong accent), still thinks like a Jew in some ways, and is both still a Jew and a practicing Mormon. This person also is not liked by a large number of the students or faculty for reasons beside cultural heritage -- but are these reasons enough to stop the best-qualified (an over-qualified) woman who is very strong on fundraising and on the importance of education, and who can help Jewish-Mormon relations?

Yet Gallaudet is the symbol for the Deaf community in a way BYU could never aspire to be for Mormons, and Georgetown could never aspire to be for liberal Catholics -- or for our preppy contingent. Theirs is a fight over cultural identity and the future of their community, in the single place where young Deaf adults form a majority, in a place where many, in an era of mainstreaming into hearing schools, are able for the first time to embrace a culture that embraces them back. The issues are real, and the debate over strong education (Gallaudet as higher education) vs. strong community (Gallaudet as cultural center and heritage), embodied most often in a debate over English vs. ASL, is alive ... and troubling.

I wish only that students did not feel the need to force the administration to their point of view. This happened in our own Living Wage hunger strike a year and a half ago, and I decried it then; I decry it here once more. It is inherently unfair and incredibly disrespectful to people who spend many days weighing and making these decisions, especially as student protests stink of whim and a childish desire to test limits. Forcing those in charge through bad publicity to change these labored decisions through such nonintellectual means is incredibly unwise.

Moral of the week: When arguing, do not refuse to recognize that the other side has good points and strong reasoning (if they didn't, they wouldn't hold that opinion). And do not force them to join yours by leaving them no other recourse. Debate, yes; presentation of arguments, yes; coercion, no. That's just not kosher, whether in student protests or in general politics.