- Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking
In May 2006, during the heated protests over a presidential selection that convulsed Gallaudet University, Tom Humphries, a Gallaudet alumnus and a member of its board of trustees, met with protesters to discuss their concerns. An unhappy faculty member stood on the stage and signed, "I don't trust you," and the crowd erupted in cheers.1 Gallaudet professor Ben Bahan helped to translate these remarks into written English so they could be posted on the protesters' website. Later, Brenda Brueggemann, the interim chair of the board, found herself dealing with upset protesters in her office at Ohio State University, while Gallaudet faculty member MJ Bienvenu gave a signed presentation in favor of the movement that was transmitted around the world via the Internet. Protesters frequently cited "Deafhood," a concept developed by the British academic Paddy Ladd, and "audism," a term coined by Humphries back in the 1970s and popularized by such scholars as Harlan Lane, Lennard J. Davis, and Dirksen [End Page 110] Bauman. The turmoil occasionally turned ugly, with charges of intimidation, bomb and even death threats, and a mass arrest, but it ended peacefully in October 2006, when the board terminated the contract of the controversial president-select. Some prominent hearing commentators censured the board's action.2 Thanks to the efforts of committed people, Gallaudet appears to have made positive strides since then, but almost three years later, as the university undertakes a new search for a president, questions remain.
Now comes the publication of an important new book, Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking, whose contributors include all of the people mentioned above. They composed their chapters well before the protests erupted, but as editor Dirksen Bauman notes in a "Postscript," "issues simmer" throughout the volume that dramatically turned up during the unrest (327). For someone like me, who knows and respects all of the nineteen contributors and followed the protests closely, reading this book occasionally gives a bittersweet feeling, not unlike looking at a picture of friends who have since had a falling out. This sensation is increased by Bauman's acknowledgment that Jane K. Fernandes, the president-select at the center of the protests, gave "generous support" while she was the Gallaudet provost for the 2002 think tank, which served as the catalyst for the volume, and that she attended all of the think tank sessions (ix). As I read, I found myself trying to imagine what Fernandes thought of the papers in 2002 and what various contributors might say about her today.
Such a dynamic both weakens and strengthens the collection. Now, after the protests, some chapters seem slightly dated, especially because some have already appeared elsewhere.3 At the same time, however, the book is much needed, perceptive, and quite timely. Bringing together prominent, as well as emerging, scholars in Deaf studies, Open Your Eyes puts them into conversation with each other, illuminating some of the provocative issues that showed up during the protests and that continue to confront the field and the Deaf community today. Contributors offer different answers to controversial questions ranging from what the field covers to the parameters of Deaf identity. How do race, gender, sexual orientation, class, family, and nationality shape the Deaf community? What is the relationship between Deaf people and disability? What kind of activism should Deaf people and their allies pursue? [End Page 111] Some chapters are more effective than others, but taken together, they open up intriguing lines of inquiry that make the book a promising teaching tool.
In this regard, Bauman has extended an impressive run in recent years where he has helped to bring a variety of distinctive Deaf studies materials to the public. In 2005 he coproduced the groundbreaking documentary film Audism Unveiled, while a year later he coedited one of the first collections of criticism of American Sign Language literature, Signing the Body Poetic (in which I have an essay).4 The only hearing faculty member in Gallaudet's Department of ASL and Deaf Studies...