Leader: Gallaudet Protest Sought Equal Treatment This past week, student protesters succeeded in ousting Jane Fernandes, the incoming president of Gallaudet University -- the nation's foremost institution for higher education of the deaf. Student activist Noah Beckman explains the passion behind the protests.
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Leader: Gallaudet Protest Sought Equal Treatment

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Leader: Gallaudet Protest Sought Equal Treatment

Leader: Gallaudet Protest Sought Equal Treatment

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The tent city was taken down earlier this week at Gallaudet University here in Washington, after students at the nation's premier school for the deaf won their long protest over a presidential appointment at the college. It was a rare show of tenacious and successful student activism, in an era when college students don't often take to the streets.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro covered the battle at Gallaudet, a battle that included hunger strikes and arrests. We asked him to go back to campus yesterday, to sit down with student government president Noah Beckman. Joe met up with him in the Hall Memorial Building, one of the places that protestors took over last month. They spoke through a sign language interpreter.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Maybe, Noah - can I start by having you just introduce yourself?

Mr. NOAH BECKMAN (Student Body President): (Through interpreter) I am a fourth year student here. I'm majoring in English with a focus on literature. My family background, I am - my parents are both deaf. I have a deaf younger brother.

SHAPIRO: When were you elected student body president?

BECKMAN: (Through interpreter) I was inaugurated last May. May 1st, two hours before the announcement of the ninth president.

SHAPIRO: Did anyone imagine that you could have the kind of power that you eventually had?

Mr. BECKMAN: (Through interpreter) For some reason we knew - and once we grew our numbers and we agreed on one mission, one statement and action, that it was easier to change the system. And it's interesting to discuss. The actions that the president took really sparked the fire.

SHAPIRO: Which actions?

Mr. BECKMAN: (Through interpreter) The arrests - I think was the biggest action that sparked the fire.

SHAPIRO: And that was 133-some students arrested on October 13th that night.

Mr. BECKMAN: Which is known here on campus as Black Friday.

SHAPIRO: I think people were really struck by the passion of the students here, and I think that a lot of people outside of Gallaudet who watched this protest are saying, wow, we don't see student protests like that anymore. Why in this corner of the world, why these students?

Mr. BECKMAN: I'll try my best to answer that. Maybe because we're a linguistic minority, and along with other minorities there's potential to bond. The issue for us here was the administration's attitude, and I think that's what gave us power to congregate and tell the world that the leadership here was ineffective.

SHAPIRO: Could students on this campus get as excited about the war in Iraq as, say, they were in protesting the choice of a president for their campus?

Mr. BECKMAN: I'm not so sure if they would, only because, you know, that's more of a Democrat/Republican thing, more - I don't know. Maybe we're too focused on our own community here. Here on campus I think there's a lot of oppression that was going on and the oppression was severe. We felt the oppression directly here on campus.

SHAPIRO: What was the oppression?

Mr. BECKMAN: That the students didn't have a voice. They didn't weigh in our voice at all.

SHAPIRO: But wasn't that the role of the board of trustees, though, to select the president?

Mr. BECKMAN: Right, with, you know, understanding and interaction with the community. You know, that's one of the many reasons why we chose to come to Gallaudet, because we wanted to be treated as equals here. You know, to my surprise, I'm not equal here. Maybe a little bit more than the outside world, but less than expected. And to have that experience at home, you know, our very home, is very, very unhealthy.

SHAPIRO: And after the protest, do you feel now that you're - that students will be treated as equals here?

Mr. BECKMAN: I will admit that the protest is one step of many that need to take place. This was just one small step of the whole movement.

SHAPIRO: Noah Beckman, thank you.

Mr. BECKMAN: Thank you for coming and taking the time to speak with us.


Noah Beckman is the president of the student body government at Gallaudet University in Washington. He spoke to NPR's Joseph Shapiro through sign language interpreter Tony Baraza(ph).

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