Monday, June 30, 2008

Status of Bell Name on Dormitory

Students, Faculty, and Staff:

I would like you to be aware that several days ago I sent the following recommendation to President Destler regarding the name of the Alexander G. Bell building. As reported below I am deeply appreciative of the part so many of you played in this process. I will inform you when Dr. Destler and the Board of Trustees has made a final decision.


Dr. Destler:

With this communication I am recommending to you as President of RIT, and to the RIT Board of Trustees, that the name “Alexander G Bell Hall” be removed from that RIT/NTID residential building, and that in the future we follow RIT guidelines to begin the process of renaming the building as appropriate. I assure you that this process shall be conducted in accordance to the RIT Board of Trustees policy and guidelines for naming buildings on the campus.

As you know, I followed an extended process to arrive at this decision. It began when I established a working group to advise me on the issue. I circulated their final report to you and all of NTID in May 2008, and included my opinion at that time. In a subsequent communiqué I reopened the discussion and allowed for: a multi-step process including an open forum which occurred in early June 2008; a continuous opportunity for students to provide me with feedback; and finally two forums (just completed) that allowed for RIT/NTID alumnae to provide comments to me during our RIT/NTID 40th Anniversary Reunion, which is currently in progress.

From start to finish I saw many individuals express their views in public forums and in public emails. I applaud the willingness of those who spoke on the issue. All spoke from their hearts and many bared their souls. Over time I detected what for me was a change in the tone of these communications; this was particularly noticeable in statements which – while still strongly maintaining the authors’ positions – considered how their positions and statements might impact those who did not agree with them.

In addition to the public comments, I received a large amount of email addressed privately to me. Those too reflected well on the free exchange of opinion valued not only in a university but in a ‘community,’ which is how I view NTID.

A small number individuals – in public or private communications – indicated that they did not have a strong position on the name, but knew the unity of our community was threatened, which saddened and upset them, and me as well.

In the end I found myself returning to, and strongly agreeing with, many comments indicating that Bell advocated an exclusive approach to communication that did not support a sense of community of deaf people who use a variety of communication approaches including ASL.

We live in a community.
We thrive as a community.
We welcome all to our community.

I have been convinced that it is not appropriate for us to maintain a building with his name; using a term I have used before, there is a strong ‘consensus’ for the removal of the name. I saw that consensus in all of the forums and communications that occurred since reopening this discussion within our community. Each of the individuals who participated in the process by sharing his or her views, and even those who were not active participants but who used the discussions to educate themselves, are owed a debt of gratitude for their efforts. In an educational environment we hope all commit to educate themselves, and then to educate each other. That has happened here.

I want it to be clear that this decision does not affect the open arms which we always have, and always will, extend in welcome to everyone who joins the RIT/NTID community.

I know you are to be commended for your participation, and I thank you for your advice, counsel, and support throughout this period.

I believe that the appropriate recommendation has been made.

I believe what has happened has been in the best interest of our community.

At this point I will await your decision.



Friday, June 6, 2008

NTID open forum on AG Bell hall

vlog explaining the open forum at NTID re: AG Bell hall

the overall forum was very positive - about 50/50 Deaf / Hearing composition - great number in attendance for summer time. Overwhelming number of comments as to why the name should be removed. Some expressions of concern re: process or impact of the decision.

Loose translation of the vlog: (difficulty uploading the vlog - will get it up as soon as we can)

Yesterday NTID hosted an open forum to discuss Bell Hall – should the name be kept or removed. The Discussion and open forum went great. Dr. Hurwitz, our NTID president, held this forum to collect more input and feedback regarding the dorm name. He wants to get the pulse of our community. It's really important so please, if you feel strongly about keeping or removing the name Bell hall, send an email to Dr. Hurwitz and Dr. Destler, president of RIT, letting them both know your thoughts. (Hurwitz tahess at and Destler wwdpro at If you want to keep or remove, state your reasons why. Your thoughts on this matter are really important. Dr. Hurwitz will host two more open forums during the NTID Alumni Reunion at the end of this month to get your thoughts. At the same time he is collecting input from the students. So if you want to let them know your thinking, send them an email. It's really important.

In regards to yesterday’s meeting, in my opinion it was very positive. Different opinions, points of view, concerns were put on the table in a very peaceful manner. One person brought up that Bell’s name on our dorm was like having a Hall of Shame. In their opinion it was a shame and a disgrace to NTID, a Deaf college, to have a dorm in Bell’s honor because of what he worked for. It was time for the name to go. Another person expressed concern as to what would be the possible adverse impact if the name is removed? They felt it was important that NTID consider any possible negative affects removing the name would have. Some people worry that if the name Bell is removed other people will “think” that NTID does not support people who are oral or hearing parents who have chosen to raise their children in an oral-only way.

Several hearing people expressed how Bell has no personal relevancy or impact on their lives or the lives of their family; however, they feel that if d/Deaf people feel strongly offended by having a building in Bell’s honor then they should be heard and respected. Its important that if d/Deaf people themselves want the dorm name removed then that should be listened to. Their wishes should be respected. Similarly, when African-Americans are offended by a confederate flag and the question is raised should it be kept, people listen to what African-Americans say – it is offensive and as a result it is removed.

One person said the name Bell hall does not fit RIT’s value statements and suggested the name be moved to a speech, audiology and/or cochlear implant center at NTID. A speech teacher who has been at NTID for many years came forward and responded that the speech, audiology and/or cochlear implant centers at NTID do not adhere to the principles and beliefs of AG Bell. (Banning of signing / pure oral only method, opposed d/Deaf to d/Deaf marriages and d/Deaf people becoming teachers etc) Bell's beliefs are not beliefs that our NTID speech and audiology services hold – it is not what they are about. Rather, when a student who signs comes to that dept. for services they are supported and welcomed, likewise when a non-signing student comes to work on speech they are served also. They work with who the students are and what they bring with them. They don’t follow Bell’s ideals so it wouldn’t be appropriate to pass on his name to their services. She stated she’d prefer not see that happen. I was very impressed with her statements.

One person shared that people who want the name to come down, like Orange & Brown, have not been following the right procedure or have been manipulating students to do their bidding or haven’t been teaching students how to respect authority and follow the system. Another person explained that he went to a school called Stonewall Jackson Elementary school. When I saw that I had to laugh hard because I know very well that Stonewall Jackson was totally opposed to the freeing of slaves. He was a strong Confederate and wanted to keep slaving running and the North and the South separate and many other things. He was a famous general during the Civil War. So the name of my colleague's school was in Stonewall Jackson’s honor and he grew up thinking nothing of it until he studied history in high school – wow, that man was AGAINST the liberation and equality of Black people – and my school was named in his honor? Geez!. But today that name is no longer – it has come down and been changed.

NTID and Orange & Brown want to be clear that opposition to a name in Bell’s honor is not opposition to people who are oral. I myself am very oral. I am hard of hearing and grew up my whole life in the hearing world and as a speaking person. And that name is still offensive to me even though I am an oral person and I was raised orally. That name in his honor – after what he did to d/Deaf people and what he tried to do to their rights – it is simply not respectful to have a name in his honor.

We want to be clear that all students are welcome here always. If we choose to leave the name in Bell’s honor we have to think about if we are sending a welcoming message to our d/Deaf ASL students and their d/Deaf parents. It is not welcoming to students who use sim-com or those who are comfortable with sign language and Deaf culture. They may want to have a d/Deaf partner or d/Deaf children in the future – we would not be welcoming to them because we honor Bell who did not welcome such and vehemently opposed them. Now conversely, if we remove the name does that mean we are not welcoming oral students? We say no that is not the case, we are definitely still cherishing our students who are oral. We want to welcome them to NTID – this is their home too. NTID belongs to all of us. This is the beauty of NTID/RIT that it should welcome all people where diversity is cherished and everyone can become part of our d/Deaf family.

There were many other comments in this two hour meeting – I can not remember them all. Overall, I was very impressed with how positive it was – people could share their fears – would it impact negatively or positively on NTID – should we move the name, leave the name, give it a new name. Really it was a wonderful discussion, no complaints. Thanks to NTID for hosting it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bell dorm open forum June 4th and O and B email to NTID community

June 4th Wed at 2 pm in the CSD Student Development Center room 1300 - there will be an open forum to discuss the dorm named in AG Bell's honor

Faculty and Staff have been sending reply all messages to the NTID community since the decision on the dorm name was originally announced. O & B sent out a reply all message yesterday:

Greetings to members of our NTID/RIT community:

The Orange & Brown Coalition, which is made up of students, staff, faculty and alumni of NTID/RIT, would like to thank all of the faculty and staff who shared their thoughts on the issue of Bell hall and allowed for us to reprint your comments in our website at: . We value ALL of your comments.

We gratefully acknowledge and value Drs. Hurwitz and Destler's statement at our May 22, 2008 meetings that no personal attacks, threats, or hostile environments will be tolerated towards individuals or groups in favor of keeping the name or those in favor of removing the name

We would also like to thank Dr. Hurwitz and Dr. Destler for reconsidering the decision and for opening up the dialogue on this topic.

We trust that once NTID/RIT examines the unexamined principles of AG Bell's life work and activities, people will be able to see the difference between those who work to improve methods of teaching speech and Bell’s efforts toward mandating an exclusive and intolerant pure oral approach over all else.

Removing the name of AG Bell from one of our dorms in no way targets Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who prefer to use speech, individuals who teach speech, and/or those who work in the field of audiology. Our opposition is to the individual--AG Bell, and how he fostered a rigid exclusiveness connected with the teaching of speech to deaf/hard of hearing individuals (and the complete intolerance of sign language) ---- not against the acquisition of speaking skills. If the administration is to worry about potentially offending anyone by removing the name of the dorm, they must show equal concern, respect and value for the multitudes of people that have been offended by the decision to keep the name.

Please rest assured that if NTID/RIT had a building honoring someone who advocated exclusively for the teaching of ASL and banished English and speech from a deaf child’s educational experience, we would object vehemently to honoring this person as well. NTID/RIT is playing right into A G BELL’S LEGACY -- – polarization within deaf education – -the oral/aural only camp and the bilingual camp (where ASL and English are equally respected). We regret this very much.

The Orange and Brown Coalition's position is that Alexander Graham Bell dorm be renamed because honoring A.G. Bell is incongruent with what RIT stands for. According to RIT's values statement:
  • RIT values integrity (Bell has been accused numerous times of forgery and plagiarism),

  • RIT values respect (Bell did not respect the wishes and voice of the deaf and hard of hearing people of his time),

  • RIT values diversity (Bell showed no tolerance for sign language in deaf education, was exclusive and extreme in this philosophy, and actively worked to prevent deaf people from being teachers),

  • and RIT values pluralism (Bell actively tried to prevent, diminish, and destroy the pillars of the Deaf community and Deaf culture - ASL, Deaf schools, Deaf teachers, Deaf organizations, and Deaf marriage practices).
In reviewing all the materials before us:
  • scholarly publications on AG Bell's role in deaf education and Deaf history and AG Bell and the telephone invention and patent (see below for sources)

  • the petition with over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, staff, community members (Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing) in favor of renaming the dorm

  • the many, many, many private emails and personal communication we have received from individuals telling us they are disgusted, upset, and in shock over the decision but are fearful to express this to the administration privately or publicly

  • Ohlone College Deaf Studies' resolution to disassociate itself from NTID until the dorm is renamed

  • and shared statements in favor of honoring AG Bell, which however do not propose valid reasons as to why a dorm name in Bell's honor is appropriate on RIT's campus
... we humbly request that you rename the A.G. Bell Hall on RIT campus.


Lastly, we would like to offer new wording for the new plaque in honor of those who have graduated from NTID/RIT:

NTID has been referred to as the “grand experiment” because its vision was to have a Deaf college exist within a Hearing college. Without a doubt, this grand experiment has been a successful and meaningful one. Thousands of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people from all walks of life are welcomed here to study, learn, grow, contribute and achieve in this unique environment. The values of pluralism, diversity and respect are lived out every day at RIT because of the existence of NTID and Deaf/hard of hearing students on campus.

We thank each and everyone of you who cares equally for ALL of our students and are so willing to engage in this dangerous dialogue. We, members of the Orange and Brown Coalition, mean no ill-will towards anyone and we believe we can have this honest and much overdue dialogue with utmost respect and caring.

We know that all in our NTID/RIT community are UNITED in the desire to affirm and live out RIT's values of: integrity, respect, diversity and pluralism.

Thank you.


Orange & Brown Coalition


Baynton, Douglas C. Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Baynton, Douglas, Jack Gannon, and Jean Lindquist Bergey. Through Deaf Eyes: A Photogrpahic History of an American Community. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2007.

Bell, Alexander Graham Memoir upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. 1883.

Edwards, RAR, “Chasing Aleck: The Story of a Dorm”, The Public Historian, Vol. 29, Nov 3, pp. 87-107, Summer 2007.

Gannon, Jack R. Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America. Silver Spring, Md.: National Association of the Deaf, 1981.

Lang, Harry. A Phone of Our Own. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2000.

Lane, Harlan. When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf. New York: Random House, 1984.

Shulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Bell’s Secret. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008

Van Cleve, John V. and Barry A. Crouch. A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1989.

Veditz, George, De Moruis Nil Nisi Bonum, Obituary for AG Bell, The Jewish Deaf, October 1922, pp. 13-15.

Veditz, George, Dec. 29, 1909 letter to AG Bell, retrieved 5/18/08

Veditz, George, February 15, 1915 letter to AG Bell, retrieved 5/18/08

Winefield, Richard. Never the Twain Shall Meet: Bell, Gallaudet and the Communication Debate. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1987.

About Orange Brown Coalition

Mission: To share with the RIT community about Deaf Culture (language, history, humor, etc.) and related activities.

To facilitate relationships between Deaf and hearing members of the RIT community through awareness of our cultures.

To provide opportunities for self-empowerment and self-advocacy of Deaf people on campus.

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