Student protests at Gallaudet get violent

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Oct 26 12:52:55 UTC 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Building Takeover at Gallaudet Ends Peacefully, but Several Students Are
Injured in Separate Clash


About 50 student protesters at Gallaudet University occupied and locked
down an administrative building before dawn on Wednesday, and later that
morning, a handful of protesters were injured when they attempted to
prevent campus security officers from opening a gate that students had
blockaded for about two weeks. Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the protesters
entered College Hall, a building that includes the office of I. King
Jordan, the university's departing president, and wound chains around the
main doors to prevent anyone else from entering the building. The
protesters oppose the decision last May of Gallaudet's Board of Trustees
to appoint Jane K. Fernandes, who was provost of the university at the
time, to succeed Mr. Jordan as president in January.

According to Mercy H. Coogan, a spokeswoman for the university, campus
security officers arrived around 5 a.m. and closed off the area around
College Hall with yellow tape. Shortly after the officers arrived, the
students voluntarily left the building, and by early afternoon, offices in
College Hall were open and back to normal. "Gallaudet has continued to
provoke its students," said Ryan K. Commerson, a master's degree student
in cultural studies, and one of the protest leaders. "People have said
that the protests have died down after Sunday.  We did this to let the
trustees know that we will still be here and take action until Fernandes
resigns." The takeover of College Hall was the second time this month that
students have occupied a building on the campus to convey their opposition
to Ms.  Fernandes. In early October, students occupied Hall Memorial
Building, a main academic center on campus, for a week, and left only when
some students were arrested.

While the students departed peacefully from College Hall, protesters at
another location on the campus faced a different scenario. At the
Brentwood Road gate on the northern side of the campus, one of the three
gates that students have blocked for over a week, protesters who were
camping out at the barricade said they were awaked by a tractorlike
vehicle pushing against their tents. Sean Stone, a freshman majoring in
English, said he woke up when he felt something hit his tent, and stepped
outside to see campus security officers and staff members from the
university's maintenance department lifting the tents and belongings of
protesters with a backhoe and loading them into university trucks.

Mr. Stone said he tried to stop one of the trucks from leaving by standing
behind it, and refused to move when the driver, a university employee,
asked him to step aside. In response, Mr. Stone said, the driver backed
into him, pushing him to the side but not injuring him. Other protesters,
however, were harmed. Several students showed a bystander what appeared to
be bloodstains left on the concrete from Brian Morrison, one protester who
had his toenail ripped off while guarding the gate against campus police.
Mr. Morrison could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

"I watched them hurt my friends," said Mr. Stone. "Some had their clothes
ripped while being pulled away, another was kicked in the knee. The
physical intimidation they used was hurtful, not just physically, but
emotionally, too." Ms. Coogan, the university spokeswoman, confirmed that
at least two students had received medical attention as a result of
injuries suffered at the gate. She also said that the second student had
sought treatment at a local hospital for a possible fracture. Some
students said at least eight protesters received medical treatment after
the early-morning altercation.

The employees involved in the scuffle were following Mr. Jordan's order to
unblock the gate, according to Ms. Coogan. Mr. Jordan had distributed
fliers to students a week earlier, informing them that they were creating
a safety hazard by blocking that gate, she said. "The dean of our
elementary and high schools has been asking us to reopen that gate for
over a week," Ms. Coogan said. "She is concerned that it creates a major
safety hazard because there is no direct way for firetrucks or other
vehicles to get through quickly in case of an emergency."

Ms. Coogan said the security officers and maintenance workers were moving
the students' belongings because they did not want to damage them while
reopening the gates. Nevertheless, Mr. Stone, the freshman protester, said
later on Wednesday that he still had no idea where to find his tent,
backpack, and books. By early afternoon, the protesters had reblocked the
gate using their cars. A few had also re-pitched tents, and a group of
about 30 protesters remained at the gate. Some even found the tarp they
had draped over the gate, and rehung it as onlookers clapped and waved
their hands in the air.

Mr. Jordan met with student protest leaders Wednesday afternoon but made
little progress in reaching a compromise with them, according to Ms.
Coogan. The university has no immediate plans to forcibly reopen the gate
again, and administrators will continue talking with students about the
matter, she said. Throughout the protests, which began in May and resumed
in early October, Ms. Fernandes, the president-designate, has remained
adamant that she has no intention of resigning. Both the chair of the
Board of Trustees, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Mr. Jordan have consistently
supported Ms. Fernandes.  Student protesters have repeatedly stressed that
they will continue to take action until Ms. Fernandes steps down.

Some members of the Board of Trustees, however, have publicly expressed
their desire for Ms. Fernandes to step down. An emergency meeting of the
trustees is scheduled for Sunday.


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