Gallaudet University Still at Crossroads at Third Forum About Congressman Tom Cole

By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

President Roberta Cordano and her team, along with William Ennis and Felicia Williams, decided to present a third forum at the Living and Learning Residence Hall Six (LLRH6) in regards to the 148th Commencement Ceremony and its honorable speaker, Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK). The formal announcement came in the early afternoon, requesting students to attend the third forum at 9 pm on May 7, 2019. The late announcement influenced a low number of student turnout. President Cordano and Ms. Williams explained that they wanted to mediate and continue on from their past forums as to how they can move on with Congressman Tom Cole. Some members of the faculty and administration came to the forum, emphasizing their support for the graduating students. 

President Cordano opened with her remarks, stating that her team is fully aware of the student’s anguish about this issue with Congressman Tom Cole as the honorable speaker. She stated that her administration will not remove Congressman Tom Cole from the speaker position even though they are fully aware about the students’ issue with Congressman Tom Cole’s standing within the Trump Administration. 

President Cordano emphasized we should understand how we can overcome Congressman Tom Cole’s controversial issues with a quote uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, "Love will overcome hate." 

President Cordano also pointed out that she will have a formal sit-down conversation with Congressman Tom Cole and his staff about a possible disruption coming at next week’s graduation. One of several attending students explained that they are unable to change their fellow graduating classmates urge to protest at the commencement ceremony. 

The interim Dean, Travis Imel, points out that his idea of re-structuring the order of speakers so that the students and their guests may feel a “balance” between certain speakers, since President Cordano and her team are planning to invite a second honorable speaker. However, the second honorable speaker may speak at the Graduates’ Hooding Ceremony on Thursday evening, a separate event. 

While attending the third forum, some students mentioned concerns about issues being recognized by Gallaudet University and that their last memory of Gallaudet will be of Congressman Tom Cole being at their commencement ceremony. President Cordano ended her remarks with some ideas for the attending students. They are encouraged to become leaders and to work together to find a plausible solution- getting them together to recognize the solidarity component (colored tassel, ribbon, and/or pin made by a Deaf artist).