NTID President Gerard Buckley recently sent out an email to all the alumni and NTID/RIT students about the recent issues/troubles they been having lately, such as bullying, aggressive behaviors and the issue of unsafe places for people of color.
I wanted to make you aware of some issues that NTID students have been raising over the past year.
In the fall of 2015, a group of students established the organization Communication Access Now (CAN) and raised issues related to communication and diversity. They held several gatherings and issued a list of demands to the NTID administration. Ebony Club, an NTID student organization for students of color, then issued its own letter to the NTID administration, co-hosted additional forums with CAN last spring, and issued its own list of demands last month. This fall, additional fora were held to discuss student concerns, including an all-day Convocation on the issues of intersectionality and agency. A committee of students, faculty and staff worked for almost six months to develop this venue where we could come together as a community to seek solutions and common ground. I asked all members of our community to attend this Convocation on Saturday, November 19 and nearly 350 did. The Convocation ended with an impromptu student demonstration. Since then, I have received additional letters from student organizations representing deaf international students, DeafBlind students, and the NTID Student Congress expressing their discontent with the administration’s responses thus far.
As an NTID student leader myself many years ago and now as president of NTID, I believe we have a fundamental duty to listen to our students when they raise concerns. We must respond in ways that demonstrate we: take them seriously; value their input; and are committed to their success. I have met, or tried to meet, with many of these student leaders repeatedly over the past year and asked them to partner with us on some of the issues raised. I established the NTID Committee on Equal Opportunity and Communication Access, including faculty, staff, and students, to review our approaches to communication in the classroom and determine if any changes are appropriate. Working with Dr. Keith Jenkins, Interim Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at RIT, I have: created a position of Chief Diversity Officer for NTID; established an NTID Diversity Committee; and mandated that all NTID faculty and staff add a diversity component to their plans of work. I invited Bobby Colón, general counsel for RIT, to deliver civil rights, collegiality and civility training to the NTID community. I have added hundreds of hours of interpreting services solely for non-academic events to support communication access. These are just a few of the steps we have taken and will take to address legitimate student concerns.
We are by no means done – there is more progress to be made as we continue to learn about the issues and educate students how to systematically, thoughtfully and productively work for change. They deserve to be complimented for letting us know where they feel we fall short. However, some issues cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. As we state in our strategic planning document developed in 2010,
“Our students bring diverse languages and communication abilities and preferences to our educational community, and we whole-heartedly welcome them. The key qualities of NTID’s communication environment are diversity and inclusiveness; our goal is to respect this diversity and continue to strive toward inclusiveness.”
Further, we will continue to prioritize education and preparation for the working world as the primary goal for NTID and will not deviate from that mission:
“…to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing students with outstanding state-of-the-art technical and professional education programs…that prepare them to live and work in the mainstream of a rapidly changing global community and enhance their lifelong learning.”
Our core values have been in place since our founding and remain so today. We continue to achieve placement rates in the workforce of well over 90%. NTID is an academic community that values and respects the rights of individuals to engage in vigorous debate, as we currently are doing. We will continue to work toward solutions together, even where we disagree.
This dialogue continues to evolve, and I will keep you informed of continuing developments. I want to make sure you know that you are welcome to ask me directly for any additional information at any time. We appreciate your support and understanding and welcome any concerns you have. Change is never easy for an organization or institute of higher education, but it is necessary, and I will continue to do my best to implement systematic, thoughtful and constructive change where possible within our mission and resources. This is an opportunity for growth and improvement that will require all of us to work together to be the very best we are capable of being.
Thank you and best wishes for a very happy and restful holiday season.