Deaf President Now:
Below is a brief history of the Deaf President Now movement that took place at Gallaudet University.
Gallaudet is a university in Washington D.C., and it is the world's first and only liberal arts university entirely for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Many faculty members are also Deaf or hard-of-hearing. All class, dorm, cafeteria, sports, theater, and social activity communication takes place primarily in American Sign Language. Check out this 30-second promo video and this clip to see a glimpse of new students arriving.
This school was founded in 1864 and named after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, whom you may recall from the origin story of ASL. He founded the first school for the Deaf in America, which that was a lower-level school -- not a college or university.
Gallaudet University has its own history (the below timeline adapted from Heather Sheffield), and you'll see Thomas Gallaudet's son was involved:
- Amos Kendall donated two acres of his land in Washington D.C. for deaf and blind students.
- After he received aide from the government, he began the "Columbia Institute for the Instruction for the Deaf and Dumb."
- Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s son, Edward Miner Gallaudet served as the superintendent of the school.
- At the turn of the 20th century, Gallaudet University briefly shifted to more technical fields of study.
- When Dr. Percival Hall became the second president of Gallaudet University, he made the curriculum more liberal.
- In 1954, by an act of Congress, the Institution’s name was changed to Gallaudet College.
- The 1970’s continued as a period of growth for the University. The school was being affected by laws passed by the government that involved education and access for disabled individuals. Gallaudet University expanded its program to meet the demands of the new laws.
Deaf President Now ("DPN")
The biggest event to take place at Gallaudet -- known as the "civil rights movement for the Deaf"-- took place from March 6-13, 1988. While there was certainly a long history that led to this point (learn about the roots of unrest), DPN began when the university's Board of Trustees announced that the new president would be hearing -- chosen over two Deaf candidates, without clear reasons based on qualifications. During this process, the board made comments indicating that they were very out of touch with the school's Deaf population. As a result, many students, faculty, alumni, and staff protested this selection and made four demands:
- The newly selected president Elizabeth Zinser must resign, and a deaf president be selected
- Chair of the board Jane Spilman must resign from the Board of Trustees
- The percentage of deaf members on the Board of Trustees must be increased to at least 51%
- The school board must hold no reprisals against any of the protesters (which included both students and faculty)
When the board didn't yield, peaceful protesters shut down the campus, staged sit-ins, and locked the gates. Support for Gallaudet's protesters rolled in from all over the country and world, and media coverage was strong. The protest lasted a week (here's a day-by-day summary), until all the demands of the movement were met! Dr. I. King Jordan was selected the eighth and first deaf president of Gallaudet University.
Gallaudet University continues to be a place where everyone—teachers, students, staff—communicates using their own language (primarily American Sign Language) and accommodates for visual learning and interaction. More importantly, Deaf people lead the school's -- and their own -- futures.
If you're ever near DC, schedule a tour of the campus!
Resources for Learning More:
- Read NAD's 25th Anniversary overview
- Watch ABC Nightline newscast and interviews from 1988 with Greg Hlibok (student body president), Marlee Matlin (actress), and Elizabeth Zinser (the board-selected president).
- Watch Photo and caption montage of the historical event
- Watch Looking back discussions with a few of the protestors
- Read Gallaudet's own summaries:
Through Deaf Eyes
This documentary covers the issues that led to, sparked, and followed the Deaf President Now movement. It also covers other parts of Deaf History, Deaf Culture, and sign language generally. I can't recommend this enough -- it's a must-watch for all my students!
You can find it new and used on Amazon by clicking here. Again, this will provide a great background for new ASL students, and also help support this website.