Pamela Troshan March 6, 2016

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Shanti Olivero

ASL 220

Pamela Troshan

March 6, 2016

Deaf President Now

Gallaudet University is a federally chartered private university for the education of the Deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C. The university was founded in 1864 to serve the Deaf and it was not until the Deaf President Now rally, on March 1988 that a deaf person was considered to be elected. The Deaf President Now (DPN) rally was a student protest against the university’s Board of Trustees in which the students, along with staff, faculty, and the community demanded that a Deaf person be appointed president. After a week of protest the Board of Trustees came to an agreement with the students and Dr. I. King Jordan was appointed the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University.

The week of the election of presidency, the students of Gallaudet University and some of the community had rallies expressing that they wanted the seventh president of the university to be a Deaf person since they had always been led by a hearing president. They felt as though a deaf university should be represented by a deaf person. It was to their disbelief, that on Sunday March 6, 1988 the Board of Trustees had the University's Public Relations Office hastily hand out press releases at 6:30 p.m., earlier than expected, announcinng that instead of picking one of the deaf candidates, they had had selected Elisabeth Zinser, the only hearing candidate. The students’ reactions started in disbelief and then progressed into anger. They felt as though the Board of Trustees did not understand how they felt. Hundreds of students then gathered to march to the hotel where the Board was holding the press conference to demand answers. Upon arrival they found Jane Spilman, Board chair, and Phil Bravin, a deaf member of the Board of Trustees, responding to questions from the reporters. The students’ anger caused chaos to break out as they demanded to meet with the Board. Tim Raus, the student who served on the search committee, and other student representatives were allowed to meet with Spilman and other Board members. The Board explained that the decision made was made in the best interest of the university but the students did not agree.

On Monday March 7, the students took control of the campus and locked the gates all around the university. This prevented administrators and staff from going into the campus and that forced the Board of Trustees to go to the campus to negotiate with the students. When they arrived, the students presented the Board with their demands. Their first demand was that Zinser resign and a Deaf president be selected. The second demand was that Spilman resign. The third demand was that there would be a fifty one percent majority of Deaf members on the Board of Trustees. The fourth demand was that there would be no reprisals for the students and faculty participating in the protest. The Board then declined their demands and Spilman said “The time has not arrived yet for a Deaf person to function in the hearing world.” This caused outrage among the protesters and they marched to the U.S. Capital building to protest.

On Tuesday March 8, students continued to protest. Students boycotted classes to attend rallies and speeches. They burned models of Spilman and Zinser to prove that they did not support them and wanted a change. On Wednesday March 9, the students refused to open the gates of the university until their demands were met. In light of Spring break, the students decided the cause was more important to them and remained at school during the break. At this point the local and national news were taking part of the protest. That evening, Zinser attended a press conference to try to calm the situation down. In this conference she denied to resign due to that it is the Board’s decision to reassign a new president. She also appeared in ABC News Nightline with Greg Hlibok, a student leader of the protest, and deaf actress Marlee Matlin. The actress fully supported the protest, expressing that if she could function in the hearing world, why would a deaf president not function.

On Thursday March 10, the students met with Zinser and were impressed with her. She genuinely showed concern for the cause and wanted to work something out. She agreed with the third and fourth demands but that was not enough for the students. They believed that Gallaudet needed to stand as a role model for deaf people and other deaf schools, a goal easier accomplished with a deaf president. In the University's interpreter and communication center, hearing protesters received phone calls from businesses, friends and anonymous donations of money, food and other supplies to aid the protest. As their protest became stronger, Dr. I. King Jordan announced his personal support towards the protest. Jordan stated that he only had anger towards the Board’s decision and that he believed that the four demands were completely justified.

The morning of Friday March 11, Zinser resigned expressing that she believed it was the only way to restore the university to its business of education. Students marched in the National Deaf Rights March to the Capital building with banners that said, “We still have a dream!” On Sunday March 13, a deaf president, King Jordan, was selected as the eighth president of Gallaudet University. Spilman resigned and Phil Braden had been chosen as the chairperson for the Board. All of the demands had been met after a week of hard work and protest.

The Death President Now movement had a major affect both on the Deaf community and in the hearing world. Although Deaf people have always known that they could do anything a hearing person could, not all hearing people agreed. DPN showed hearing people that it is possible for a deaf person to function in the hearing world. The movement was a big reminder to Deaf people that they did not have to accept the limitations that others put on them. DPN gave the Deaf community a sense of pride and accomplishment in deaf and hard of hearing people from everywhere. Since the movement, more students that graduated from Gallaudet University have entered into professions that were previously off-limits for a deaf or hard of hearing person.

The movement also brought legislative change in the United States. After DPN many bills were passed to assist the Deaf community. Some of these bills were the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act (1988), the Television Decoder Circuitry Act (1990) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). The Telecommunications Enhancement Act assured that our national telecommunications system be fully accessible to deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired individuals. The Television Circuitry Act of 1990 required that all televisions with a screens 13 inches or greater in size be equipped with a built-in decoder chip that can display the closed-captions on television programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects deaf people and other disabled individuals from discrimination on the basis of their disability.

I believe that DPN was an important milestone for the Deaf community. Although the students were risking their academics and faculty members were risking their jobs, they fought for what they believed was right. The students of the university needed to feel represented by someone who knew what it was to be part of the Deaf community. Many people can relate to the civil rights protest, which is why this movement got so many supporters and was so effective. The most important thing is that DPN showed hearing, Deaf, and hard of hearing people that it did not matter if a person could hear or not, they could do everything the other could.

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