100 arrested in protest

WASHINGTON – As George Washington University searches for its new president, Gallaudet University police arrested more than 100 students and alumni Friday night after three days of the students blockading campus gates in protest of the school’s incoming president.

The country’s only deaf liberal arts college had been shut down since Wednesday when students closed access to the Northeast D.C. campus though human-chains and the use of motor vehicles and construction equipment. Objection to Jane Fernandes began last May when she was named president-designate, but opposition intensified when students took over an academic building Oct. 6.

Many students objected to Fernandes, the school’s former provost, because she has been able to speak since childbirth and did not learn American Sign Language until the age of 23. ASL is the primary language used at Gallaudet and is a staple of deaf culture. Students also said the composition of the search committee lacked sufficient diversity.

Fernandes, who is set to take office in January 2007, has repeatedly refused to resign.

Student Association President Lamar Thorpe visited Gallaudet Friday before the arrests to survey the situation and identify ways GW could help. He said that although he does not want to take sides in the conflict about Fernandes, he supports the students’ right to protest. He said he is lobbying SA senators to allocate money to send blankets and food to the protesters, many of whom are living outside in tents in the increasingly colder weather. Thorpe said an SA-sponsored barbeque is also a possibility.

He said that a main concern of the Gallaudet students – that their presidential search process was not fair – is something that is being done right at GW.

“Everything that they were saying just kept going back to my thinking of how we’re doing things the right way,” Thorpe said.

Gallaudet Department of Public Safety arrested 134 student and alumni Friday night, said Mark Goldstone, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer representing the protesters. He said the decision to arrest the group at a side entrance to the campus came hours after Fernandes met with student leaders and him. Neither side would budge on the others’ demands: Fernandes refused to resign and the students refused to open access to the campus.

“They are shocked that the administration would arrest them, and now they’re trying to bring them on disciplinary charges (like expulsion),” Goldstone said Sunday. “There’s a real atmosphere of fear, and (the) coming together that Jane Fernandes called for has certainly not occurred.”