The first Deaf woman and first openly LGBTQ person to be president of Gallaudet University, Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano, was named one of USA Today’s 2023 Women of the Year.
Gallaudet, the world’s only liberal arts college for the D/deaf and hard of hearing, is located in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet was founded in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was president. But the university didn’t have a Deaf president until 1988. And in 2016, Cordano was named the first Deaf woman to hold that title. She was also the first Deaf woman to be named president of an American University.
Cordano’s parents, who are both Deaf, are graduates of Gallaudet. But Cordano herself earned her undergraduate degree from Beloit College in Wisconsin. She had decided at a young age that she wanted to be a lawyer, and USA Today reports that she understood that law schools didn’t tend to accept Gallaudet graduates because “they didn’t believe that deaf people could be lawyers back then.” So she went to a hearing college. Her choice paid off. She earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She became a lawyer and assistant attorney general in Minnesota before she founded two charter schools for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Cordano works to advance equality for D/deaf people and advocates for all people to learn American Sign Language from a young age. She embraces “deaf gain,” the concept that D/deaf people “have something to offer the world. Our way of being is truly powerful… When we come into the world, we show up perfect. We are perfect just exactly the way we are,” she said.
The Women of the Year announcement was published by the USA Today Network on Sept. 10, 2023.