Black Deaf Doctorates Discuss Successes, Struggles

Karisse Carmack | 3/14/2012, noon

In the United States, only a fraction of the nation's 300 million residents earn a Ph.D. And in the deaf community, an even smaller number of people have overcome a range of challenges - including being deaf - to earn a doctorate.

On the afternoon of February 21, a steady stream of Gallaudet students and other guests filed into the Andrew Foster Auditorium on the Northeast campus to attend the university's "Black Deaf Doctorates: Panel Discussion."

During the Black History Month event, a distinguished group of black deaf individuals who have attained their doctorates, discussed their individual triumphs and struggles in obtaining the advanced degree. One central theme of their remarks and comments was to also encourage more deaf black students to join their ranks.

"I feel proud of myself. I feel at the same time a bit dejected," said Angela McCaskill, Ph.D., regarding the small number of black deaf doctorates. She is currently the deputy to Gallaudet's president, T. Alan Hurwitz, and the associate provost for diversity and inclusion.

"We hosted this program to let you know that if you dream it, you can achieve it ... I want to see more of us in the pipeline," Angela McCaskill said through an interpreter.

There are approximately 13 known deaf black scholars in the country who have earned their doctoral degrees, according to the university's Daily Digest Web page. Nine of the 13 participated in the event. Among those in the audience were Gallaudet students, as well as pupils from the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf. Both of these schools serve as primary and secondary schools that cater to deaf students and they are also located on Gallaudet's campus.

Individually, the group decided to pursue Ph.D.s for various reasons. Some were encouraged by their mentors, while others were encouraged by their bosses, or were fueled by their desire to advance in their careers.

Simon Guteng, Ph.D., who is the director of the university's G. "Bummy" Burstein Leadership Institute, said he was motivated by a conversation he had with his friends when they were in high school, his teaching experience at a school for the deaf in Arizona, and by his church's missionary work.

"We were talking about missionaries in Africa and there were photos of missionaries working with different Africans, both poor and rich. So, I sat back and I wondered, what about those deaf Africans, who is reaching out to them, who is helping them break the barriers they are experiencing in Africa?" said Guteng, who received his doctorate at the University of Arizona.

Within the small, highly accomplished group was even a sister duo: Angela McCaskill and Carolyn McCaskill, Ph.D., who were each awarded their doctoral degrees at Gallaudet in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Angela McCaskill was the first deaf black female to receive her doctorate at the institution.

Carolyn McCaskill is an associate professor in Gallaudet's American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Studies Department; she also coordinates the department's undergraduate program. Carolyn McCaskill said she was inspired by Glenn Anderson, Ph.D., the first known deaf African American to earn a doctorate degree.