Gallaudet University was founded in 1864 through an act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln. This month, the preeminent school for the deaf celebrates its 150th anniversary with the opening of a campus museum and plans to develop land it owns near campus in rapidly-changing Northeast D.C. We talk with university officials about the challenges in higher education today and the features that draw students to Gallaudet for their studies.


  • T. Alan Hurwitz President, Gallaudet University
  • Fred Weiner Assistant Vice President for Administration, Gallaudet University
  • Jane Norman Director Emerita, Gallaudet University Museum; Retired Professor of Communication and Theater Arts, Gallaudet University

Full Video

Watch the full video of our live show with Gallaudet University.


  • 12:06:37

    MR. KOJO NNAMDI(unintelligible) to provide intellectual and professional advancement for deaf and hard of hearing students. In addition to being an educational and cultural hub for the deaf community, it's now one of the largest land owners in the Florida Avenue Union Market area. Gallaudet University marks its 150th anniversary tomorrow, as both a preeminent school for the deaf and an active player in the District's changing cityscape. With a lineup of new pre-professional and doctoral programs, the school is eager to prepare students for the full range of careers now open to them.

  • 12:07:13

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut, like many of its peers in higher education, it's also dealing with issues like tight budgets and efforts to boost enrollment and graduation rates. And as Gallaudet prepares to develop property it owns on 6th Street, it's hoping not only to capitalize on the fast growing commercial scene, but to strengthen its blossoming bilingual neighborhood northeast of Union Station, where American Sign Language speakers blend into the community. And joining us in studio, to have this conversation, is Alan Hurwitz. He is the President of Gallaudet University. Alan Hurwitz, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:07:52

    MR. T. ALAN HURWITZ(Through interpreter) Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

  • 12:07:54

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Fred Weiner, Assistant Vice President for Administration at Gallaudet University. Fred, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:02

    MR. FRED WEINER(Through interpreter) Nice to see you.

  • 12:08:03

    NNAMDIAnd good to see you again. Also with us is Jane Norman, Director Emerita of the Gallaudet University Museum, and a retired Professor of Communication and Theater Arts at Gallaudet University. Jane Norman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:19

    MS. JANE NORMAN(Through interpreter) My pleasure.

  • 12:08:21

    NNAMDIYou can follow today's conversation in a number of ways. We have live transcription and a live video stream on our website, You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email with your questions or comments to You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or post a question or comment on our Facebook page or on our website, During the course of the conversation, the voices you hear will be those of our in studio interpreters. So, my first question to you, President Hurwitz, Gallaudet was founded in 1864 by an act of Congress. Tell us briefly how the school got started and exactly what you're celebrating tomorrow.

  • 12:09:14

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) It's really a very exciting time for us. Tomorrow, on April 8th, we'll be celebrating our 150th anniversary of existence. President Abraham Lincoln signed the charter for the university. And it was April 8th, 1864. How we got started? If you go way back, Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet came across a little girl named Alice Cogswell, and he discovered that she was deaf. And in interacting with her and trying to communicate with her, he discovered she was deaf. And he had a nice chat with her father, Dr. Cogswell.

  • 12:10:06

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And he talked to him about where they could find additional opportunities to get her an education. And so Dr. Cogswell suggested that he go to Europe, and sent him to Europe. His first stop was London, England to study how deaf children were able to get educated there. And so Dr. Cogswell financed his trip to travel there by ship. And when he arrived in London, he wasn't able to find a place where he was able to get sufficient information about educating deaf children. But while he was there, he went to a lecture.

  • 12:10:45

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And there was a young deaf gentleman, whose name was Laurent Clerc, and he was giving a lecture about how -- and giving a demonstration about his teaching techniques for deaf children in Paris. So, after that presentation, Reverend Thomas H. Gallaudet approached Mr. Clerc, and decided that he would go to Paris to visit the school. And they had wonderful conversations and learned quite a bit about how deaf children could be educated and could learn. And their education was through sign language.

  • 12:11:26

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) Then, subsequently, Laurent Clerc had an opportunity to come back to the United States with him, and he was instrumental in establishing the first school for deaf children in the United States. Over the course of their journey back to the United States, it took 52 days, the two of them had an opportunity to converse, and Gallaudet taught Laurent Clerc English. And Laurent Clerc taught him sign language. Then, when they arrived back in the United States, immediately, they started a fundraising campaign to establish the first school for deaf children in the Americas.

  • 12:12:10

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And that school was based in Hartford, Connecticut. And that was in the early 1800s. And then, in 1857, there was a gentleman by the name of Amos Kendall, who at the time, was the United States' Postmaster General. And he was quite influential here in Washington, with Congress. And he was friends with the President of the United States. He encountered a group of 12 deaf students and blind students, and he didn't know what to do with them, and what to do to ensure their education.

  • 12:12:47

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And so he contacted the Gallaudet family. The Gallaudet family sent a young man, named Edward Miner Gallaudet. And at the time, he was only 19 years old. And Amos Kendall invited him down to Washington to establish the school and he became the Principal of the school. Amos Kendall had property right along Florida Avenue, and he donated the property there to establish a school for deaf children. And that was 1857. And then seven years later, as the children became older, Edward Miner Gallaudet -- he became quite concerned about where the children would go after they finished their primary education.

  • 12:13:35

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And so he had a conversation again with Amos Kendall, and they started an appeal to Congress to establish a college program for deaf children. And there were some really interesting conversations at the time. There was a Senator from Iowa by the name of Grimes who made a proposal to establish a college program, a collegiate program for deaf students. And they had quite a lively debate, but in the end, both the House and the Senate passed the legislation unanimously. And it was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. And that occurred on April 8th, 1864. And that's what we're celebrating tomorrow.

  • 12:14:19

    NNAMDIWell, the first commencement at Gallaudet was in 1869, in the month of June, when three young men...

  • 12:14:28

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) That's right.

  • 12:14:28

    NNAMDI...received their diplomas. And all of those diplomas were signed by the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, at that time. Why does the sitting U.S. President still sign all of the Gallaudet diplomas, because I now presume there are a few more than three to be signed.

  • 12:14:51

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) Yes. There definitely are. Even today, we have -- I have the pleasure of signing our diplomas with President Obama. And 1869, the President has signed our diplomas. And I think it demonstrates the strong relationship between Gallaudet University and the federal government, Congress and the White House. And so I think it demonstrates that.

  • 12:15:17

    NNAMDII'd like to turn to you, Fred Weiner, because you're an alumnus of Gallaudet yourself and now work there as an administrator. How are today's deaf students different from those of the past, in terms of their involvement beyond the campus? And how is that affecting, in your view, the university's mission?

  • 12:15:37

    WEINER(Through interpreter) Indeed. Our students today are definitely different from when I was a student back in the day. Well, I think that's true of any other college student, whether they be deaf or hearing. When I was a student, we were perfectly content to remain on campus, and do everything on campus, but today we have students who want to go out. They want to be able to interact with the community. They want to be able to go out and work in the community.

  • 12:16:04

    WEINER(Through interpreter) We have students who live in the neighborhood, as well as faculty and staff. We have a convergence of factors that have come together to make all this possible. And one of those is the ADA, The Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as advanced technology, which has made the world much more accessible for deaf people, who are deaf or hard of hearing, for that matter.

  • 12:16:25

    WEINER(Through interpreter) So, our students have grown up in a world where they have a lot more access to culture, to education, to others. And the technology today, that we have today, also makes communication so much easier. So, if you go to a store, whether it be at Union Market or anywhere on H Street, you'll see people who are deaf working in any of those venues as well.

  • 12:16:52

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're having a conversation around Gallaudet's 150th anniversary. And joining us, in studio, is Fred Weiner, Assistant Vice President for Administration at Gallaudet. Alan Hurwitz is President of Gallaudet University. And Jane Norman is Director Emerita at the Gallaudet University Museum. She's a retired Professor of Communication and Theater Arts at Gallaudet. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you live near Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington?

  • 12:17:23

    NNAMDIWhat interactions do you have with the campus and the students? Are you a Gallaudet student or a graduate? Why did you choose to get your degree there? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Jane Norman, you grew up in a deaf family before the age of computers. How have cell phones and text messaging and other communication advances changed the experience of deaf students today?

  • 12:17:52

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Oh, well, there's been a dramatic change. In fact, it's an entirely different world we live in now than when I was a young girl. Like, for example, if my family wanted to visit someone, maybe just a couple of miles away, we couldn't call in advance. But rather, we had to get in the car and drive all the way over to their home, and hopefully we'd find them home. If they were home, we'd find ourselves pounding on the door, or my father would always kind of pick me up on his shoulders, and so I would wave a white handkerchief in the window, hoping to get the attention of somebody on the inside to let them know we were visiting.

  • 12:18:22

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) So yes, things are much more different today than they were. Now, there's instantaneous communication, far faster, almost like blink of an eye communication. So, much changed.

  • 12:18:32

    NNAMDIYou really did wave the handkerchief in the window?

  • 12:18:35

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Oh yes. No kidding. Absolutely. That's how we did it back in the day. We'd wave that handkerchiefs from side to side. And, you know, if, you know, of course, people were looking to see us, they would open the door, but I can tell you there were probably a few times when they kind of hid around the corner, hoping that we wouldn't know that they were inside. But nonetheless, I was waving that handkerchief away in the window.

  • 12:18:53

    NNAMDIAnd I could just see if that picture were to be seen in somebody's window again, today, now that we have so many forms of advanced communication, they would be absolutely freaked out by what was going on.

  • 12:19:05

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Yeah. No kidding. But, you know, that was a way of life for us back then. It was not uncommon at all. People didn't give it a second thought.

  • 12:19:12

    NNAMDIAlan Hurwitz, when Gallaudet opened, the District's boundary line, placed the campus outside the city limits. Since then, the city has expanded to include the campus, and a lively neighborhood is now growing up around it. How is the university moving from isolation to engagement?

  • 12:19:34

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) That's exactly right. Back when Gallaudet was established, when the property was donated for the establishment of a school, it was outside the boundaries of Washington, D.C. But now, the campus is very much a part of Washington, D.C., in the northeast quadrant of the city. Over the years, as Fred has mentioned, we were very inward looking on our campus. We stayed pretty much inside our gates and fences.

  • 12:20:04

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) But over the years, we've become much more community engaged. We worked very closely with the advisory neighborhood associations. And right now we call -- we're undergoing a process we call a transformation from isolation to engagement. And now with the development along 6th Street, we've been engaged in quite a bit of very active discussions about the development of that area.

  • 12:20:34

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) We have very good relationships with the area neighborhood associations and the ANCs. We have a great relationship with the D.C. Council and the Office of Planning. And so, we've been discussing quite a bit about the transformation of our neighborhood. And we're very close to NoMa, that new community there where there's a Metro station that is recently opened and union markets and all of the area where an H Street and all of the lively restaurants that have opened.

  • 12:21:07

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) In the past, it may not have been very safe to walk to H Street perhaps. But now, our students can go there anytime of the day or night and frequent the restaurants. Many of our students are now doing internships or working in the businesses that have opened there. And they hire people who use sign language. And so, we're right in the middle of that process of inward looking to one that's much more engage. Fred has head up the plans for the transformation that's going on and Gallaudet's involvement in that.

  • 12:21:44

    NNAMDIAnd you are right in the middle of a conversation about Gallaudet. We're talking about its 150th birthday. We're going to be taking a short break, but you can follow the conversation in a number of ways. We've got live transcription and a live video stream on our website, There's the old telephone, 800-433-8850. Email to or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:54

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the past, present and future of Gallaudet University, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. We're talking in studio with Jane Norman, Director Emerita of Gallaudet University Museum and retired professor of communication and theater arts at Gallaudet. Alan Hurwitz is president of Gallaudet University. He joins us in studio along with Fred Weiner, assistant vice president for administration at Gallaudet.

  • 12:24:21

    NNAMDIAnd, Fred, when we broke you were talking about 6th Street and Gallaudet's property holdings along both sides of 6th Street and what's your plan for your parcel on the corner of Florida Avenue and 6th Street? How are you working with the community to come up with something that works for both students and for residents?

  • 12:24:43

    WEINER(Through interpreter) We have a total of six acres that we are planning to develop. And over time, we have four acres that are on the west side of campus across from the street and then two acres on our side of the campus. And what we're looking to do now is to transform that into something that is unique in D.C. And there's a number of ways we can do that. We want a place where people can be there 24/7.

  • 12:25:05

    WEINER(Through interpreter) They can live, they can work and they can play there. We see this as an opportunity for the Gallaudet community and the neighboring community to interact with each other and really redefine the town gown relationship. And if you think about the whole concept of what is unique about Gallaudet University as a deaf institute and signing, and you think about places like Chinatown in New York or Little Havana in Miami where they have their own unique signature with a different language and different culture, giving (unintelligible) those areas.

  • 12:25:52

    WEINER(Through interpreter) And that's something where we have these small enclaves in those areas, and we'd like to see that happen here, where ASL comes in as part of the multilingualism of the area. And within that vision and transformation, we're looking to create a new campus gateway through 6th Street and Florida Avenue, something that's really iconic for the city and a unique space and where the neighborhood can put its signature to the location.

  • 12:26:23

    WEINER(Through interpreter) So we have a design competition that will be taking place this year and early next year. And it's really -- I don't know how else to see it -- but just really cool. People are coming together and interacting, they're having a good time and they're actually looking to how we can have this gateway into the 6th Street area. So it's really, we are living in very exciting times at the university.

  • 12:26:44

    NNAMDIWhen new businesses first moved into the neighborhood several years ago, you reached out to them to welcome -- have them welcome deaf customers. Now that openness seems to be kind of built into the fabric of the neighborhood with deaf students working in local stores and restaurants. Talk about that relationship.

  • 12:27:09

    WEINER(Through interpreter) When businesses start to grow in the area, I guess that was a few years ago. Gallaudet took the time and effort to reach out to those businesses and educate them about deaf people and about issues of accessibility and the concept of something called deaf space, where you're creating a space that will invite and engage deaf people so that they are able to participate as fully as possible as anybody else would.

  • 12:27:34

    WEINER(Through interpreter) So it's a design that's engaged around accommodation. And since that time, it has evolved very organically in different ways. And now, businesses in the neighborhood take proactive stances to learn sign language, to figure out how to put lighting appropriately so that it will be easier for deaf consumers to come in and communicate. And I knew when things had changed.

  • 12:28:05

    WEINER(Through interpreter) When there was a restaurant who had just opened and literally had just opened their doors and they reached out immediately to the Gallaudet community and invited me to come over on their grand opening for some free pizza. And I thought, well, that's nice. That was certainly a great incentive to go. So I showed up and I was expecting, you know, to start educating them.

  • 12:28:24

    WEINER(Through interpreter) But by the time I had gotten there. And there were two frat brothers, in fact, who had shown up with a Gallaudet banner and they had actually hung it in the restaurant. So that was the moment when I saw and looked at that and said, well, things are really starting to move along very quickly. So it's really this whole process of engagement with the neighborhood has taken on a life of its own.

  • 12:28:50

    NNAMDIAnd you were expecting free pizza, but in fact you get a lot more than that. But nevertheless, perception, it would appear, changes very slowly. We got an email from Anne who writes, "I think it’s a shame that the university is in a bad D.C. neighborhood with crime and robbery." How would you respond to that, President Hurwitz?

  • 12:29:19

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) I would say that that may have been true several years ago. The neighborhood we live in wasn't necessarily a very safe place. And that's why we had a more of an enclosed campus that was fully fenced with gates and security. But over the years, that has evolved and changed. I think it's probably safer now than it's ever been. People may not have been walked to H Street depending on what time of day it was, but now students go back and forth all the time.

  • 12:29:49

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And we encourage people in the evenings to go in groups and be very conscious of their surroundings. But there is still crime and it's more of an isolated thing. But I would say things related to the crime rate have evolved quite a bit and it's much safer than it's ever been.

  • 12:30:11

    WEINER(Through interpreter) If I could add, I think the way...

  • 12:30:11


  • 12:30:12

    WEINER...(Through interpreter) that you look at it is sort of the reorganization of the area, which really happens like any other area that goes through this process. I think you have to always be aware of your environment regardless of where you go anywhere in Anywhere City, USA. So I think Dr. Hurwitz is correct in saying that, you know, this is not an unsafe area and it's an area that's full of crime. It's just a place like any other. It's the place to be.

  • 12:30:38

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And also I'd like to add, there have been quite a few improvements in the home -- in the housing in the are. And Gallaudet is involved with the Live Close to Your Work Project that has been sponsored by the D.C. government. And so several of our faculty and staff have brought homes in the area and would renovate those and the neighborhoods are improving. Someone said that we have over 500 faculty staff, students and alumni who live within two miles of our campus.

  • 12:31:14

    NNAMDIJane Norman, you taught in the communication department at Gallaudet for many years and you've studied how the media portrayed deaf people. How has that portrayal changed over time? And do the media get it right today?

  • 12:31:31

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Well, yes, in fact, that was my field of study, really looking particularly at the image of deaf people as it's defined by the media. You know, media will tell you that this is the face of what deaf people look like. And they're able to tell you exactly what goes into that image. And as a result, there have been a number of problems over the years. There are a lot of stereotyping that goes on. And a lot of the negative images that the media has portrayed of deaf people.

  • 12:31:59

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) And so what happens is that, you know, very often the media portrays deaf people a certain way that may not match the way they are in real life. Now, we have seen changes over time. And very excited about this changes. In fact, just last month, the national associate of the deaf, which by the way is the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, hosted what they called a breakthrough awards ceremony.

  • 12:32:21

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) And it was there that they were able to recognize by giving an award to Marlee Matlin, Andrew Sorkin, and also individuals who were very instrumental in different TV programs like, for example, "Switched at Birth." So these individuals were recognized. And again, just pointing to the evolution of the image that media has been involved in in terms of how it portrays deaf people.

  • 12:32:47

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) So these breakthrough awards were ways to, you know, break through the ways that deaf people have been able to break through sound barriers, break through stereotypes to make sure that deaf people in the media are portrayed accurately. And that image is far different than it was 40 years ago. Forty years ago, Jane Wyman portrayed a deaf/mute woman in the film called "Johnny Belinda."

  • 12:33:08

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) And it was a very, very different portrayal than we see now. There was this beautiful moment when Marlee Matlin was featured on "Seinfeld" with Jerry and George and there was an episode called "The Lip Reader" that she was in. And Marlee in that particular episode showed a flair for comedy. Let me tell you, it was kind of a take off on her lip reading skills. And so from that there were many, many stories that we've heard about how deaf people have the shared experience of, you know, whether they can lip read or not lip read.

  • 12:33:38

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) And it really has nothing to do with the ability to hear or not. You know, really, what's most important out of all of this is just the person and who they are, more so than their ears.

  • 12:33:46

    NNAMDICan you don your headphones please so that we can take a question from a caller. We will go now to Daverit (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Daverist, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:33:58

    DAVERISTHello, Kojo, it's Daverist (sp?). Thank you for this important show. And I always listen to you and thank you very much. This is a very interesting show. My question is this, I have a non-deaf daughter who has had three years of sign language and she intends to make that her foreign language, which she can do in her school. We live in the area and my daughter is always excited when she meets and interacts with students.

  • 12:34:24

    DAVERISTShe's ninth grade, will be going to the tenth grade. I'd like to know if Gallaudet offers opportunities on campus for non-deaf students who want to improve their skills,.

  • 12:34:36

    NNAMDIYes. You should also know that a significant percentage of the student body at Gallaudet are hearing people. But please allow me to have President Hurwitz answer the question.

  • 12:34:48

    DAVERISTFor high school students.

  • 12:34:49

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) Oh, I'd be happy to address that. That's an excellent question. We've seen tremendous growth in the number of sign language classes being offered all over through high schools and in other colleges and universities. And it's being offered like a foreign language course. In fact, American sign language has become the third most commonly learned foreign language in institutions of higher learning.

  • 12:35:24

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) At Gallaudet, about 20 percent of our students are hearing and about 8 percent of those students -- or 80 percent of those students are studying in undergraduate programs. We have an interpretation training program. We have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and PhD programs in interpretation. In our graduate school, about 60 percent of our students are hearing.

  • 12:35:58

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And many of them have learned sign language when they were younger through their education. And research has shown that even hearing babies benefit from learning sign language. And it helps them develop their overall language skills and to become more expressive and responsive as infants. And so there are many benefits.

  • 12:36:22

    NNAMDIDaverist, are you looking for a productive and organized way in which your child can kind of hang out on campus?

  • 12:36:30

    DAVERISTWell, I was hoping that maybe there would be something during the summer or something where she could spend some time there. As I said, she will going into the tenth grade and she's really interested in this area and I just was looking for some ways that we could get on campus and spend some time there. We live so close by, maybe -- we went to see "Tribes" and she really enjoyed that. So just looking for some additional opportunities whether they are plays or some organized summer program or something.

  • 12:37:01

    WEINER(Through interpreter) I can add to that, yeah. We do offer...

  • 12:37:03

    NNAMDIIt's Fred Weiner.

  • 12:37:04

    WEINER...(Through interpreter) sign language classes through the summer. So I would definitely encourage you and your daughter to take a look at our website. And if you look under summer programs, you should be able to register for one of those courses. And that's a great opportunity to have an immersions experience with sign language. So, and I also thinks it's great that your daughter wants to do that. So I'm giving her a big hand wave over here.

  • 12:37:29

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) I'd also like to add that...

  • 12:37:30

    NNAMDIPresident Hurwitz.

  • 12:37:32

    HURWITZ...(Through interpreter) Gallaudet University also has a K though 12 program on our campus. We have about 275 students and 150 are in our high school. And so it would be a great opportunity for your daughter to be able to come and perhaps watch a basketball game or one of our theater performances here on campus and at the same time learn more about deaf culture and meet deaf people, and maybe meet deaf high school students who are just like her.

  • 12:38:05

    NNAMDIDaverist, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:38:07

    DAVERISTThank you for taking my call. Goodbye.

  • 12:38:10

    NNAMDIYou too can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to Fred Weiner, I'll ask this one of you. We got a question on our website from Fredrika, " I'd like to know about why the new main entrance is being moved to 6th Street from 8th Street. It seems like it's catering to the metro station instead of the neighborhood."

  • 12:38:35

    WEINER(Through interpreter) That's a very good observation on your part. And one of the factors that drove the planning of the campus plan was to shift the entrance into the 6th Street-Florida area near the side of the Metro for transportation purposes. But also, if you look at our campus map and how we are actually configured, the 8th Street entrance was actually more designed for traffic than for an entrance.

  • 12:39:03

    WEINER(Through interpreter) So if you look at how it was designed in terms of the 6th Street-Florida side, it actually represents the older part of our campus, the president's house. There's a large -- sort of the green part of the campus. And we also have the lawn over there that's the Frederick Olmstead lawn, which is actually a beautiful area of our campus. So if you go into that part of the campus, I think you're really drawn in because of its beauty and because of the way it's designed.

  • 12:39:36

    WEINER(Through interpreter) And so, also, that creates a shared space with the community from that point of entrance. So that was why we did that. And we're actually doing it to have more interaction with the community and also to invite more pedestrian access into that particular entrance through the 6th Street-Florida entrance. So that's the direction we're heading to.

  • 12:39:57

    NNAMDII got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about Gallaudet's 150th anniversary. We are looking at Gallaudet past, present and future and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What's the biggest challenge for deaf college students today? How would you like to see Gallaudet develop the land it owns along 6th Street, in Northeast, D.C.?

  • 12:40:18

    NNAMDIYou can also send us email to, send us a tweet @kojoshow or make a comment on our Facebook page. We have live transcription and a live video stream at our website, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:19

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Gallaudet University on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. We're talking with Alan Hurwitz. He is the President of Gallaudet. Fred Weiner is Assistant Vice President for administration. And Jane Norman is Director Emerita of Gallaudet University Museum and a retired professor of communication and theater arts.

  • 12:42:40

    NNAMDI(Through interpreter) Alan Hurwitz, when you became president at Gallaudet you decided to cut 17 academic programs and to add new pre-professional programs. How are you trying to align your course offerings with the employment opportunities for students after they graduate?

  • 12:43:00

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) That's correct. When I first arrived at Gallaudet, the board of trustees had already put in place a strategic plan. And one of the areas of the strategic plan was to have a comprehensive academic review or a review of all the academic programs. And so they established a working group of faculty, staff and students to take a look at all of the academic programs. And then, at the end of their work, they made a recommendation to eliminate 17 academic programs.

  • 12:43:33

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And those were programs that were no longer in high demand and not aligned with the employment opportunities that were available today. And so during the process of eliminating 17 programs, they gave us great flexibility in order to create new additional programs. So for the past four years we've started up several new programs. We established two new PhD degrees. One is the PhD in interpretation for sign language interpreters.

  • 12:44:08

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) The other PhD program is a PhD for educational neuroscience. And we also established master's degree programs in public administration. And we're doing that in collaboration with the federal government's office of personal management and American University. And we're also starting several innovative, online graduate programs. One in American Sign Language pedagogy. And so those students come to campus over the summer and then they go home and continue their studies online from wherever they may live.

  • 12:44:49

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And then they come back for a second summer and they finish their course work. We've also established four pre-professional degree programs. Pre-med, pre-law, pre-business and pre-architecture. And the idea behind those four pre-professional programs is to make sure that our students receive a solid liberal arts education and that they're better prepared for graduate school in those areas.

  • 12:45:23

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And their graduate programs might happen on campus or at other colleges and universities because our goal is to create more deaf doctors, more deaf lawyers, more deaf business people and deaf architects. In fact, one of our graduates, just from last May, has been accepted to the University Of Virginia Medical School.

  • 12:45:46

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And we expect in the future we're going to be seeing more students becoming doctors and lawyers. We already have several deaf -- many deaf lawyers, but we'd like to see more. And our graduates have set up their own businesses, they've engaged in entrepreneurship and so that's where we're going for the future.

  • 12:46:10

    NNAMDIJane Norman, you've attended three different universities. You got your bachelor's degree at Gallaudet, your master's at NYU and your PhD at Howard. What was it like to be a deaf student at each of those schools? And how does your experience reflect the ways higher education for deaf students has changed over time?

  • 12:46:31

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Well, you know, when I first went to school at Gallaudet, I basically was feeling as if I were at home. I was home in an environment where everybody communicated in sign language, as did my biological home family. You know, the only difference for me then was that I did have some teachers who were hearing, but nonetheless they signed. And I really didn't have much of affiliation with people who could hear at that point in time.

  • 12:46:53

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) You know, I associated with individuals who were very talented and all of them were fluent in sign language. Then when I went to NYU, you know, the experience to me was very different. It was, in fact, quite the opposite. No one knew sign language. I had no interpreting services. I had no note-taking services. And I just, you know, did the best I could. I made the best that I could of what I had. I basically had to navigate through everything.

  • 12:47:16

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) I had to work. I had to spend a number of hours studying on my own. So the workload was really not different, but what was different was just the environment. And I ended up developing some friends who could hear. And they did learn sign language over the years. And I remain good friends with them to this day. Now, comparing that to my experience at Howard University, that was an entirely different experience for me.

  • 12:47:38

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) I think it was an opportunity for me to be more reflective of who I was. I had, you know, really come to understand myself better and I believe that as a result of the studies there I became a much better person. It allowed me to be more reflective of who I am, to better understand my identity as a deaf woman. And really understand, you know, as a deaf person, how that identity plays out with everything else.

  • 12:48:01

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) So a very positive experience for me. And now, in comparing the experiences that students have these days, I think Gallaudet to me is a wonderful experience. And it is, of course, what students make of it. If students go there and put effort into it, they will, in turn, get a lot from their studies. And the same holds true for those who don't maybe put so much effort into it. It's all about what you put into your education, in terms of what you get out of it.

  • 12:48:25

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) You know, really valuing yourself and your views, having that as your motto, you can take your studies and move on from graduation from Gallaudet, looking to achieve bigger and greater things. As Dr. Hurwitz has just said, pursuing studies in other fields or perhaps moving into the community to make a difference. You know, just to mention, the museum is a wonderful way we've been able to reflect on who we are. It's an open door to our community. We hope people will come and visit the museum that we are opening at Gallaudet.

  • 12:48:54

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) It will be an opportunity for people to come learn about our culture, learn about our language and learn about who we are as a community. There are many ways to be deaf. You know, not everyone is deaf in the same way. And in the museum we'll be able to share a number of different stories of trials and tribulations, you know, joys and sorrows, the ups and downs. Stories that, you know, universities can share with others, but this is a bit unique because it really speaks about who we are as deaf people.

  • 12:49:20

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) It brings us together in the commonalities. And really the exhibits at the museum show a lot about who we are. Hopefully, if you come to the museum you'll be able to see more. And, Kojo, I am personally inviting you to come to the museum and visit for yourself.

  • 12:49:33

    NNAMDIAfter a spiel like that how can I not come to visit? Fred Weiner, we got a tweet from Theresa, who says, "As a neighbor of Gallaudet, I see lots of collaboration with local businesses, but what about individuals?"

  • 12:49:54

    WEINER(Through interpreter) We have a community relations office, so we do respond to individuals who make whatever requests for whatever they may need from us. And the needs that come to us vary from wanting to have ASL classes, people that have taken them before, sometimes we've had issues where neighbors have had questions about students living next door. And if they had some issues occur there we help mediate those situations as need be.

  • 12:50:24

    WEINER(Through interpreter) We really are working very hard to connect with the neighborhood, as Dr. Hurwitz as said. We looking with the neighborhood councils and then I know that we try and keep the door open in that area for everybody. We want people from the community to come in and use our outdoor facilities like our track and whatnot. So we want to reach out to the community and anyone out there who is interested can reach out to our community office if you have further questions.

  • 12:50:55

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And I'd like to add, as well, we have an outstanding athletic facility. Our football fields and baseball fields and softball fields, all of them are new and we open those to the community on weekends or on evenings. There are youth organizations who come on campus and will have games using our facilities. I mean, just for example, last Saturday we had about 500 hearing high school students on our football field.

  • 12:51:27

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And they were there for tryouts, to allow other colleges and universities to come and take a look at their talents and think about them as recruits. And so we have just an ongoing, very rich relationship with the community. And we really welcome the community to come onto campus and experience our facilities.

  • 12:51:45

    NNAMDILet's go to Sheba, in Washington, D.C., who has a comment on how Gallaudet gets around. Sheba, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:54

    SHEBAHi. Thank you. I am a hard-of-hearing woman. I was brought up a little bit in both worlds. And I had a comment about -- for your previous caller. She was asking what her high school daughter could do to involve herself more with sign language. When I was in school myself I went to a summer camp in Florida, called Camp Endeavor. And most of our camp instructors and counselors there came from Gallaudet.

  • 12:52:25

    SHEBASo Gallaudet was an aspiration when I was younger and I was trying to decide if I wanted to be part of the deaf community or the hearing community. I ended up not losing my hearing, but I wanted to recommend Camp Endeavor to anybody who is interested in being a part of deaf culture. They had several other hard-of-hearing and hearing students down there, as well. It's a summer camp. It's a week long. I would bring ear plugs because it's one of the loudest places I've ever been. That's about all I had to say. Thank you.

  • 12:53:00

    NNAMDIAs I said, Sheba wants to talk about, in a way, how Gallaudet gets around. Where her instructors in Florida were all from Gallaudet. Alan Hurwitz, the board of trustees set a goal of doubling enrollment to about 3,000 students by next year. Why the desire to grow the school and will you be able to reach that goal?

  • 12:53:29

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) That's an excellent question. You're correct. The board of trustees established a goal of having a student body of 3,000 students. But through ongoing discussions with the board of trustees we've gotten some clarification about how they came to those numbers. We realize that they envisioned them divided into categories, full-time undergraduates, full-time graduate students, students who are taking professional preparation programs and online courses.

  • 12:54:03

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) And so with all of the students in the variety of categories adding up to 3,000 students. In our annual report we report the number of students who are taking all of the different kinds of programs that we offer, the continuing studies, online courses, traditional face-to-face classes. Right now we have about 2,400 students every year. And so we're really not that far off from our goal. And so in the future, as we expand our online course offerings I think it's going to make it possible for us to continue to grow.

  • 12:54:35

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) We currently have about 1,100 undergraduate students, and almost 500 graduate students. Plus we offer professional courses and online courses and those numbers are growing quickly. And we also have about 275 students in our K through 12 programs. And so we're really getting to the goal that the board of trustees established for us.

  • 12:55:02

    NNAMDIThanks to technology, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and increased awareness, deaf students can succeed at just about any college today. So for whom is Gallaudet still the best choice?

  • 12:55:22

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) Again, that's a wonderful question. So the question is what is the best school environment for someone looking for a university? Gallaudet University, as you mentioned, just runs like any other university. And it's true, that young, deaf and hard-of-hearing people have more choices than they've ever had ever before. They can go anywhere. But only at Gallaudet University do you receive this unique type of experience.

  • 12:55:58

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) You're able to receive a high-quality education in the classroom. And these students are also able to have a meaningful college life experience, a student life experience. And what I mean by that is that they're able to become fully engaged in the vibrant college life and all the activities that they offer. These students can become captain of the football team. They can become captain of the women's volleyball team. They can become captain of the women's basketball team.

  • 12:56:29

    HURWITZ(Through interpreter) They can become officers, the president or vice president of the student body government. They can become editor of the school newspaper or have a lead role in a theatrical production. And so that's really what I mean by saying they can have a full and meaningful college life experience. If they want that, Gallaudet is really the place.

  • 12:56:50

    NNAMDIThat's the president of Gallaudet University, Alan Hurwitz. Alan Hurwitz, thank you so much for joining us. Fred Weiner is assistant vice president for administration and Jane Norman is Director Emerita of the Gallaudet University Museum. The museum, it is my understanding, opens on the 8th of this month. Is that correct?

  • 12:57:13

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) Yes, that's correct. Actually, that's tomorrow at 1:30…

  • 12:57:16

    NNAMDIAnd all the…

  • 12:57:17

    NORMAN…(Through interpreter) in the afternoon we'll have our grand opening.

  • 12:57:18

    NNAMDIAnd all are invited to attend.

  • 12:57:20

    NORMAN(Through interpreter) That's right.

  • 12:57:21

    NNAMDIShe's a retired professor of communication and theater arts. I'd like to thank our interpreters from Gallaudet University, Carolyn Ressler, Jeff Hardison, and Paul Harrelson. We'd also like to thank Speech Communications and Captions Unlimited for providing our live transcription. And thanks to WAMU 88.5's Erica Hendry for providing the live video stream today. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows