By: Rozelyn Wisen (06/19/17)
I have been thinking about this assignment for awhile now and contemplating who I felt was the most interesting and made the most impact on deaf culture. At first I was interested in writing about Abbe Charles-Michel de l’Epee and his contribution to deaf education and the developement of Sign Language, but as I was reading more about Deaf history I was drawn to William Stokoe and his contribution to deaf culture, deaf education and ASL. Yet as I studied further it was four others that have made a significant advancement in deaf culture and education.
So I haven’t chosen one but four individuals. These were the four students that led the Deaf President Now, the 1988 student led protest at Gallaudet University 9 “the world’s leading liberal arts university for the deaf” in Washington, DC. (DJSC pg 649)
Gallaudet was first established in 1864 and up until 1988 was led by hearing presidents and in 1988 the Board of Trustees was made up of 17 hearing individuals and only 4 deaf individuals with the chair of the board was Jane Bassett Spilman, an hearing individual. When the staff and students heard that the president was resigning they felt that this was the time for a significant change, it was time for a deaf President to run this university for the Deaf. Three candidates were put forward by the board, I. King Jordan who was then Gallaudet’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and was deaf; Harvey Corson, who was also deaf, was the superintendent at the Louisiana School of the deaf and Elisabeth Zinser, the assistant chancellor at the University of North Carolina, who was not only not deaf but did not even know ASL.
When the student body discovered that the board had decided on Zinser as the new president great anger and frustration and they wanted to know the reason behind Zinser’s selection. Four students at this time rose to the surface to be the spokes people for the students of Gallaudet. The outgoing Student Body President, Tim Rarus, who had 4 generations of deaf family members. Before attending Gallaudet he had graduated from Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tuscan, Arizona; the incoming Student Body President, Greg Hlibok, who was deaf from birth; Jerry Covell, who was deaf, born to deaf parents and had attended Washington State School for the Deaf in Vancouver, and who had unsuccessfully ran against Greg Hlibok for Student Body President but was still tagged as the protesting students “spiritual leader” because of his passion; and the fourth was Hlibok’s running mate, Bridgetta Bourne (I could not find as much info on her background)
These four became known as The Big Four and they led the protests with determination, intelligence and perseverance and after locking down the school and making sure they were heard, they put forth the demands of the DPN protest which were 1. Zinser’s resignation and appointment of a deaf president; 2. the IMMEDIATE resignation of Jane Bassett Spilman as chair of the Board of Trustees; 3. restructuring of the Board of Trustees to a 51% deaf majority; and finally 4. no reprisal against any staff or students involved with the protest. Zinser at first refused to resign as did Spilaman. However after a very well run protest and the support of the public and politicians on day 5 of the protest Zinser stepped down, and on Day 8 of the protest Phil Bravin, a deaf member of the Board of Trustees, and Spilman hosted a press conference to say that Spilman had resigned and Bravin was the new chair and that every one of the demands had been met and they announced the appointment of I. King Jordan as the first deaf President of Galludet University.
The Big Four had led a successful Civil Rights protest and had changed the course of history for deaf education and the public perception of just what the deaf could accomplish as a united front. It is no surprise that these four went on to have very successful careers, Rarus who graduated with a B.A. in Government and his first job was on Capitol Hill working for Senator John McCain; Hlibok graduated with a B.A. in Government and went on to study law fulfilling his dream of becoming a lawyer and he currently serves as chief of Disability Rights Office in Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission; Covell graduated with a B.A. in American Government and he is currently the coordinator of the Interpreter Preperation Program at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois; and Bourne was also a government major and earned her masters at Gallaudet, she currently community education coordinator at the California Shool for the Deaf.
https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/ gallaudet-university-students-protest-deaf-university-president-deaf-president-n ow-1988