Hiding Behind the Mask of Professionalism

An Open Letter from Alternative Solutions Center (ASC)

Hiding Behind the Mask of Professionalism

October 12, 2006

Dear Colleagues in the Mental Health Field:

Like many people in the Deaf community, the Gallaudet University protest weighs heavily in our hearts today, as we are sure it does in yours, whether or not you have taken a public stand. As Deaf-centered psychotherapists and alumnae of Gallaudet University, we cannot sit back on the couch in silence, hiding behind a mask of professionalism, while grave social justice issues are at stake. We address this letter to our fellow colleagues in the mental health field – psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, program administrators and coordinators, educators, interpreters, lawyers, medical personnel, and other specialists in the field, Deaf and hearing alike.

Neutrality or Authenticity

Those of us who work in the mental health field have often been taught that neutrality is one of our necessary professional behaviors. Outside of the therapy office, we ask, in what way does neutrality serve us, our clients, and our Deaf community? How do we act as role models of authenticity and social responsibility by remaining silent, by pretending to have no opinion, or by looking the other way during discussions about the issues of oppression underlying the Gallaudet protest?

Oppression = No Mental Health

Audism and racism (and many other isms) have a negative impact on our clients’ and our own well-being. Years of oppression have taken their toll on the mental health of our Deaf community, both at individual and collective levels. Mental health cannot exist where there is oppression, for oppression leads to hopelessness; where there is powerlessness, for powerlessness leads to despair; where there is inequality, for inequality leads to anger and resentment; where there is audism and racism, for audism and racism lead to self-hatred and low self-esteem. As professionals, how can we be neutral about oppression, when it is the enemy of mental health?

Social Justice is the Issue

There can be no such thing as neutrality when it comes to oppression, inequality, and prejudice. When there is outrage about the appalling statistic that only 3% of Gallaudet faculty members are Deaf African Americans or Deaf Black Africans, when there is anger about the University’s continuing hiring of hearing faculty, despite the already existing excessively high ratio of hearing to Deaf faculty members, when there is bitterness about departments refusing to provide interpreters for professors when students cannot understand their signing…social justice is absent. No matter if we agree with the specifics of the Gallaudet protest or not, the greater issue of the day is social justice, and it should be one on which we all can agree.

Our Concerns

We are concerned for the well-being of the protesters, who have spent long days and nights fighting to be heard by the Gallaudet Board
of Trustees and administration. We are concerned for the parents, who
worry, with good reason, about their children’s safety on a campus with a less than stellar record for protecting its students from harm. We are concerned for the staff and faculty, who are taking great risks by joining in the protest. We are concerned for the alumni, near and far, who dream that future generations of Deaf children will be able to attend an oppression-free Gallaudet. We care about our Deaf community and we are concerned.

The Harm in Hiding behind Professionalism

Being mental health professionals does not preclude us from having our own opinions, nor does it preclude us from taking a public stand. What is more harmful to our clients and our Deaf community: hiding behind the mask of professionalism by remaining neutral, or choosing to be authentic and speak up against injustices?

Fear or Freedom

Some of you, at Gallaudet University and elsewhere, may be afraid that speaking up could result in the loss of your job or future job opportunities. If you are Deaf, we ask, what price are you willing to pay to work in a place free from oppression? If you are hearing, we ask, is not the likelihood that you can find other employment in a hearing environment sufficient to inspire you to rally for social justice?

Willing Participants or Not

Do we, as mental health professionals, want to be willing participants in the social injustices of audism and racism? If not, we must take a stand. Supporting the request for the resignation of Jane K. Fernandes is one way to begin; true progress toward social justice, however, can only continue if all of us, individuals, University departments, professional organizations, and mental health centers, commit to righting what is so obviously wrong, now and in the future.

We ask you, our colleagues in the mental health profession, to get off the couch and take a stand.


Candace A. McCullough, PhD
Sharon M. Duchesneau, MA, LCPC

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