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

  1. raychelle October 14, 2006

    I agree, it is impossible to be neutral and bias-free. Even though we are told to maintain our neutrality, our eyes tell the truth. Our behavior, words, facial expression are not immune from our own feelings. It is positivism that has seeped in all of us, the belief that neutrality and objectivity is something we should be proud of attaining.
    In fact, the very concept of neutrality and objectivity is an oxymoron, an impossibility. We cannot remove the judgmental gut in all of us, we can only mask it for the time being but it eventually needs air. We need to teach the world that masking our gut is actually unhealthy – and that it is okay to have an opinion, as long as we have open dialogue, civility and respect with colleagues, clients, friends and family.

    You go girls 🙂 You both rock my world!

  2. Jenn October 14, 2006

    We appreciate your sharing your deep concerns. This situation at Gallaudet is starting to resemble a dysfunctional relationship with domestic violence potential.

  3. Kendra Smith October 14, 2006

    Thank you for your impassioned call for those of us in the mental health fields to choose authenticity. I agree quite strongly that true health cannot exist in an environment of oppression and it’s about time that we in this field talk about our responsibilities. For too many years, counselors were trained to be “neutral,” but even when we act “as if” we are neutral, we are not. Even those who choose not to take a stand, have, in fact, taken one in that decision. Fortunately, the larger field is changing, with more professionals calling for social action as part of our fundamental role as counselors. We, in the Deaf community, need to keep up with that change. I recognize how scary this is for many who have been trained that to take a stand will mean we are unprofessional or, worse, unethical. I think we could address and reduce our fears by engaging in dialogue with each other. So, thank you, Candace, for putting out this call.

  4. jimmy October 14, 2006

    I totally agree that as for professionalism should be neutral unless injustice or abuse or wrongdoing and they need to speak up and stand up. Reading blogs and Videos of Donalda Ammons and GIS Gallaudet adm definitely oppress them – Glad to know professionalism like Donalda Ammons and Lynn Jacobwitz as well as others stand up. I would do the same as Deaf culture and deaf rights is my number one priority of two.

  5. Kendra Smith October 14, 2006

    Sorry, I meant: Thanks, Candace AND Sharon…

  6. Brian October 15, 2006

    “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

    -Dante Alighieri

  7. testing_the_truth October 16, 2006

    Dear ASCDeaf Bloggers,

    I may be burnt for this writing I post here, but I felt it would be in the proper place to get valuable feedback. I am an outsider in the amazing but tricky disciple of psychology. It is not my intention to change topic, I think my piece is related to the issues discussed in the excellent article from Candace and Sharon above. I would appreciate any comment.


    Zoltan Szekely Ph.D.
    former Gallaudet professor

    Asperger era at Gallaudet?

    About 18 years ago there started a so called ‘Asperger era’ when more and more people with this particular mental illness became Gallaudet administrators. People with this illness can operate and look as normal in most of the circumstances, but they are unable to have any emotions at all. Their emotional center in the brain is shut down permanently. The only way for them to relate to human emotion is imitating other people and/or faking emotion they don’t really have.

    People with Asperger syndrome readily recognize each other (as if they could ’smell’ each other) and help each other into powerful positions. They feel safer if people around them are also ‘Asperger people’. My friend told me that Asperger syndrome keeps a strong bond between people, just like a very exquisite club membership.

    How can you recognize Asperger people? Well, be careful, because they are smart. But watch them. You will see them making incredibly stupid things, like hurting someone bad and smiling or laughing at the same time. They can’t truly relate to other people’s pain they cause to them. They could be very talented in one or other area (like raising money from Congress, sic!) but extremely awkward at the same time in others.

    Asperger people cannot be convinced. They have an inner compulsion to follow their own logic exclusively and shutting out any other possibility. Actually, they are completely unable to follow other people’s reasonings. They also have and maintain and utter contempt toward anything different from their own.

    As leaders they are rude, heartless and inconsiderate. They force through their will on everyone at every turn, simply because they are utterly unable to get a grasp of anybody else’s view point. It is really frightening to see these people in leadership position. They are also compulsive liars, because in their twisted minds lie is the same as truth. That is how you identify them: by their brazenly corrupted lies. They simply don’t know the difference between lying and telling the truth! Of course, this corruption renders them devoid of any moral measure or quality.

    But be careful, as soon as they realize that you recognized them as Asperger people, they will do furiously everything, and they won’t refrain from the most obnoxious thing, in order to get rid of you.

    It has been enough for Gallaudet to suffer from these leaders. It is time to end the Asperger era at Gallaudet University!

  8. testing_the_truth October 17, 2006

    Oops, I made some exaggarated statements here about people suffering from Asperger syndrome. I apologize! I apparently misunderstood some aspects of this contition. I found some information handily available on the Internet to better understand Asperger syndrome, that helped me a lot. http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/aswhatisit.html


  9. Jean Boutcher November 7, 2006

    Even before reading Dante’s “Inferno,” it is
    always my heart that says that neutrality is
    wrong, morally and ethically wrong — regardless
    of one’s professionalism. A great thinker,
    Edwin Hubbel Chapin, puts it best: “Neutral
    men are the devil’s allies.”

    Jean Boutcher

  10. IamMine March 27, 2007

    Thanks for enlightening me on the neutrality issue when I bought it up at Jay’s site regarding the PBS show, “Through Deaf Eyes” that was produced by a hearing person!

    I am going to bookmark your site because I’ve always wanted to major in psychology but due to time and money, I chose CIS as a quickie. 😉

    I’m excited that there are Deaf psychologists because the information is right in front of my eyes!

    Before I sign off – another great person by the name of Howard Zinn also said it best: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

    Thank you, Sharon and Candace! 🙂

  11. Deaf Socrate's Trail October 20, 2007

    I have seen a real troulbe in grasp of the idea: oppression because there is no hard evidence by cause and effect at all! Number of us live in an oppressed society due to bad education of the Deaf or do not know how to overcome or struggle to deal with that idea? Many questions remain unanswer, however we must understand Freedom often allow us to do anything that might harm, impact or benefit each individual but we all must take responsibility to control! At Gallaudet University in general education is very flawed in many ways due lack of well displined in learning that refer to reality! Professionalism is very vague! There are very easy to become out of control in communication amongst them at Gallaudet University. Too many problems become too simplistic and emotional that they could not able to control that is my opinion because they can not be tough to approach that issues!
    Social Justice is a big issue in fact, Social justice is too small for small number of whole people at small university as 2,000. Gallaudet University might not attract the best qualified professional people of diversity! Again where is evidence of cause and effect? What cause and effect social justice?


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