Deaf President Now: a student protest movement

Gallaudet University is the liberal arts university for the deaf in Washington, D.C. It offers programs and services for the deaf in bilingual communication (ASL and written English). It's the only university in the world where American Sign Language (ASL) is employed campus-wide.

A historic mark of Gallaudet University is the "Deaf President Now" (DPN) movement in 1988. This monumental mark began when a president retired in 1987. Leaders and supporters in the Deaf communities nationwide joined together to urge the Board of Trustees to select a first deaf president.

The Board of Trustees narrowed down to a shortlist of 63 deaf candidates and three hearing candidates. Then, the final candidates were a hearing woman Dr. Elisabeth Zinser and two deaf candidates Dr. Harvey Corson and Dr. I. King Jordan. The Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Zinser as Gallaudet's next president.

"They [the Board of Trustees] want to be benefactor. The whole attitude of benevolence is that 'I am better than you, and I'm helping you.' That says, 'I don't need to learn your views, mine are better. I don't need to hear your priorities, mine are better.'" --Dr. Harlan Lane, Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies, Author: "When the Mind Hears" and "Mask of Benevolence".

In reaction to this decision in March 1988, Gallaudet students and supporters launched the DPN student protest with four demands: 1) deaf president 2) the chair of the Board of Trustees to be resigned 3) at least 51% of the deaf Board of Trustees 4) no reprisals.

The faculty, students, staff, alumni, and Deaf community members across the U.S. and Canada, as well as supporters aboard, allied in the protest.

"The problem is not that the (deaf) students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen." -- Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, American civil rights activist, Minister. 1988.

During the week-long protest, Zinser finally resigned. I. King Jordan was selected as Gallaudet's eighth president and first deaf president.

Philip Bravin was selected as the first Deaf chair of the Board of Trustees and the members of the Board of Trustees fulfilled the 51 percent of the Deaf members.

"The students at Gallaudet University deserve our congratulations. They educated the nation about deafness, and won a long overdue victory for all disabled people." -- Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, 1988.

This protest changed the history of Deaf education and has made positive ripple effects.