Popping the Gallaudet bubble: Deaf students balance interaction with a changing, predominantly hearing neighborhood
| Story by Shaun Courtney |
| Multimedia by Josephine Peterson |
The sound waves reverberate in the chest, with a rhythmic “thump, thump, thump.”
Deaf or hearing, passersby feel the police cruiser before they see it speeding, lights flashing, along Florida Avenue Northeast near Gallaudet University. It is hard to ignore. The rumbler siren, often a tool for grabbing the attention of distracted drivers, is used in this neighborhood to alert Gallaudet’s 1,900 deaf and hard-of-hearing students of an approaching police car.
Gallaudet University’s 99-acre campus in Northeast Washington is surrounded by a tall black wrought-iron fence that, from the outside, looks imposing. From inside, the barrier makes the campus feel comfortably sequestered from the hustle of Washington. In recent years, nearby neighborhoods of H Street, NoMa and Union Market right next door have brought an influx of mostly hearing people with new development around the campus.
Many members of the university community expressed complicated feelings about what the shifting world beyond Gallaudet’s gates means for the university. There is excitement about more buildings with deaf-friendly architecture and the possibility of a community where more people speak American Sign Language ASL, even if they are not deaf or hard-of-hearing. But what if the hearing community’s increased presence diminishes the unique ASL culture of the campus?