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November 18, 1987 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-11-18

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A Scene

of Quiet
Gallaudet offers education, a special culture
and a guide to the hearing world for deaf students

When Frances Parsons shows
slides of Picasso's "Guernica"
and Fernand L6ger's "The
City" to her art-history stu-
dents, they watch her more
closely than the masterpieces. Small won-
der: the tall, slim, white-haired professor
keeps moving her lips without making a
sound. Her striking face is as animated as a
mime's. She fairly runs from one side of the
room to the other, crouching and springing
up again. And always, always, her hands
are at work, signing her words to life. By the
end of class, Parsons looks exhausted. "And
I don't even like abstract art," she signs,
jokingly. The professor knows she must use
every possible means of communication be-
cause most of her students-like Parsons
herself-are profoundly deaf. "If I only
signed my lectures," Parsons signs in expla-
nation, "the students would all fall asleep."

That is how the learning process goes at
Gallaudet University, the nation's only lib-
eral-arts school for the hearing-impaired.
Named after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a
pioneer in deaf education, the Washington,
D.C., institution was chartered in 1864 by
President Abraham Lincoln. (The only oth-
er postsecondary schools for those who can-
not hear include the National Technical
Institute for the Deaf, a two-year college at
Rochester, N.Y., and four federally funded,
regional programs around the country.)
Gallaudet, which became a university last
year by act of Congress, is pre-eminent in
its field, having prepared more than two-
thirds of all deaf college graduates in the
world with methods that are innovative
and academically challenging. (Tuition
and room and board add up to $6,110 per
year; 76 percent of the students receive
some form of financial aid, including

federal vocational-rehabilitation funds.)
On a typical day at the leafy, 99-acre
campus in the northeast section of the city,
the 14 students in Gallaudet's renowned
dance company are learning a Honduran
wedding dance from aguest instructor. The
teacher, who is reciprocating a visit to Hon-
duras by the Gallaudet troupe, speaks no
English and cannot sign. Instead, she
dances and claps out the beat as she gives
directions in Spanish to an interpreter. The
interpreter, in turn, instructs the dancers,
speaking English for those who can read
lips, and signing. "Sometimes it's actually
easier to work with deaf dancers," says
Diane Hottendorf, the company's director.
"Movement is their language."
Soon the "bride," "groom" and "guests"
are twirling gracefully around the room,
the women's frilly white skirts slicing the
air as they dance with precision. Two giant
bass speakers boom out the music so that
the dancers can feel the rhythm through
the floor. The walls are also wired for am-
plification. If the dancers with some hear-
ing ability turn their hearing aids to a
certain setting, "T" for telephone, the am-
plification wipes out background noise and
transmits the music into their ears.
Blinding flashes: But college life is more
than work, here as anywhere. Students un-
wind in the evenings at the Abby, a night-
club in the student-union building where



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