WASHINGTON (AP) – Protests over Gallaudet University’s choice for president of the school for the deaf escalated Friday as about 200 students blocked access to a campus building.

Students at Gallaudet began blockading the campus building Thursday night in protest of the selection of Provost Jane Fernandes as president. Many stood on the stairs in the rain, holding signs with slogans such as “Stop the Oppression.”

Fernandes was selected last spring to take over beginning in January, sparking student protests and a no-confidence vote from the faculty. Students renewed their protests this week.

Her critics say that the selection process was unfair and that Fernandes lacks the leadership skills needed for the job. She has contended that some people do not consider her “deaf enough” to be president – she was born deaf but grew up speaking and did not learn American Sign Language until she was 23.

Some protesters at the Hall Memorial Building claimed campus police handled them roughly when officers tried to enter Friday.

Jory Pederson-Dike, an 18-year-old Gallaudet student from Fremont, Calif., said one campus police officer choked him, and he and other students said they were pushed by several officers.

Video taken by a student and obtained by The Associated Press shows a campus officer appearing to push students.

In a statement, the university said “rumors of student injury are false.” It also said that the protesters were disrupting classes and other work in the building and had been asked to leave.

Mercy Coogan, spokeswoman for the university, said, “I saw that same video and I saw it really differently. That one officer to me was doing his job by asking the students to leave, and the students looked really confrontational.”

“I feel it’s proof that we do need a new system and a new leadership because they proved they don’t care about students’ concerns,” said Latoya Plummer, a junior at Gallaudet.

Despite the opposition, the 21-member board on Friday upheld its decision in its last meeting before Fernandes takes office in January.

“Some protesters seem to think that not accepting their recommendation is not listening,” Coogan said. “The board has heard them, but the board is not going to do as they wish. They stand by Dr. Fernandes, and she is not willing to step down from the presidency.”

The protesters want the search process reopened. On Thursday they walked out of classes and disrupted celebrations honoring outgoing President I. King Jordan and his wife.


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