Deaf President Now

July 12, 2018
Category: Submitted Posts

By: Karen Kotovsky (07/05/17)

For this writing assignment I chose not to write about just one significant person from Deaf History, but many. I am thoroughly intrigued by these brave/strong students and faculty at Gallaudet University who stood up for right in the DPN – Deaf President Now protest. I have a tendency to be one who “fights” for the under dog, the oppressed, the blue collar hard working, shoved aside people. I was and still am a strong union backer. I know DPN is not a union organization but, it fought just as union workers have fought for decades. These students, faculty and others stood up, marched and spoke out for what was and is right!

Gallaudet University was started by and run by Hearing individuals for over 120 years. There is no one saying these people were bad, or didn’t do great things for the University. No, DPN was saying it time, it’s time for the University, and the country to understand (as started in Step 2 Start ASL) “deafness is not a disability, but a quality that brings deaf people together as a community and a culture that can function on its own.” Hearing people can stop thinking and feeling like they need to “take care of us” – Paternalistic views.

That week during DPN was compared to the civil rights movement. I conquer – The Deaf community was and is still at times an oppressed community.

If I am to actually need to name, names for this paper – The four students who eventually emerged as leaders of the protest were: Bridgetta Bourne, Jerry Covell, Greg Hlibok, and Tim Rarus. These names and other information I found on the Gallaudet University web site History issues page. Amen to these four for standing tall in the face of adversity!


During the week of DPN (March 6 – March 13, 1988) the protesters were strong in their conviction by traveling to and from the University to the Capital. They used cars, buses and their own bodies to block the campus. They gave up their Spring Break to make sure things were carried out to the end! The Board stood firm as well, not backing down on their decision.

The board had 4 final candidates for the new President of the University, one hearing and 3 deaf. They chose the 1 hearing candidate. Jane Spilman the Board of Trustee President underhandedly in a “backdoor” fashion made a earlier than expected press release announcement, instead of making the announcement herself. The students and faculty which had been so adamantly working for a Deaf President were now in disbelief and angry. They were angry at both the decision and the backhanded way it was announced. Gary Olsen the President of NAD – National Association of the Deaf stepped up. He had the groups go to Spilman and ask for an explanation. Spilman only agreed to meet with Tim Rarus who had been on the search committee. It was stated (Spilman denied she ever said it though) that Spilman said in this meeting, “Deaf people are not able to function in a hearing world.” This just went to show everyone how out of touch Spilman and the other Board members were with deaf people. This just stirred everyone up even more. This also made the protester even more organized in everything they did day to day for the next week. This went from being a local issue to a national one. Members of the protest leadership were interviewed by Ted Koppel and also appeared on Good Morning America. The supports grew to include Congressmen, Marlee Matlin and Jesse Jackson. The leaders of the protest presented the Board with 4 demands. At first the Board refused all of them. By Day 6 (March 11, 1988) the Board realized their mistake. Their new President Elisabeth Zinser resigned. That was only 1 of the 4 demands. The students vowed to stay at the University through Spring Break to make sure the remaining 3 demands were met. On Day 8 – March 13, 1988 All 4 demands had been met!!! Dr. I. King Jordan was named the Eighth President of Gallaudet University – The First Deaf President! It was front page news in The Washington Post and other newspapers across the country and the world. Deaf people REALLY can do anything – except hear.

I look forward to continuing my understanding of the events of DPN by reading your suggested book: Deaf President Now! The 1988 Revolution at Gallaudet University.

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