flashBACK Friday: Deaf President Now

Posted by: Staff Writer on Feb. 28, 2013

This upcoming March will mark the 25th anniversary of the biggest hurdle overcome by the Deaf community. Deaf President Now (DPN) was a movement that took place at Gallaudet University on March 6th 1988 and lasted seven days. Those seven days forever changed how Deaf people are perceived by society and their civil rights.

It all began when the seventh President for Gallaudet University was appointed – Elisabeth Zisner, a hearing person, despite complaints by the Deaf students and faculty at Gallaudet.  After many failed attempts to demand a Deaf candidate be selected as President and a scorning comment from the Board of Trustee chairperson, Jane Bassett Spilman: “Deaf people are unable to function in a hearing world” - they knew they had to take action.

For those seven days – the school was locked up, busses were hot-wired and flattened, and the grounds were taken up by a crowd of signing supporters whom camped out on campus. The devotion of the students and faculty during the protest was proven when they gave up their Spring break to protest for a Deaf president. No margaritas in Mexico, no scuba diving in Jamaica, or trips back home to see family – the only amount of travel they did was marching to the Capitol Building to speak to the masses about their dream for a Deaf president.

Four students, Bridgette Bourne, Jerry Covell, Greg Hlibok, and Tim Rarus, made four demands:

  • The hearing president appointed, Zisner, would have to resign and the position would be filled by a Deaf person.
  • The resignation of chair of Board of Trustee, Jane Spilman.
  • The requirement that the Board of Trustee must seat a 51% majority of Deaf members.
  • There will be no punishment to the students and faculty involved with the protest.

Finally, after seven days of protesting, on March 13th 1988, the perseverance of students and faculty caused their demands to be met. I. King Jordan, a Deaf man, was named the very first Deaf President of Gallaudet University. This caused a lasting social change in the Deaf community. It was soon afterwards, many amendments and laws were passed to protect Deaf and disabled people.

How many of you were involved with the protest? Do any of you remember watching DPN on television?

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