This past Tuesday, March 13th, marked the 40th anniversary of the end to the protests known as Deaf President Now- but how much do you know about this iconic movement?
In 1988 Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees announced that a hearing candidate, Elisabeth A. Zinzer, to become the new President. At this point not a single deaf individual held the position and the students started to speak up: Why was the only hearing candidate (out of 3 individuals interviewed) now President of a Deaf university? The students immediately began protests, starting on March 7th. They outlined four key demands:
The next seven days consisted of several forms of protest: The school was barricaded with busses, locked, and not permitted to be opened until their demands were met. The crowds grew and began to attract media attention, with interviews from reporters around the world (including one from Israel). Marlee Matlin was even interviewed on ABC’s Nightline about the protests.
On March 10th Elisabeth Zinser met with students and only agreed to the last two demands: the Board of Trustee changes and lack of punishment toward the protesters. The movement responded saying it wasn’t enough: They needed a deaf president for Gallaudet. The same day support flowed in. The American Postal Worker’s Union backed the protests, and people all across the country donated food and supplies to the protesters. The next day they marched to Capitol Hill, with the iconic banners stating “We Still Have A Dream”.
Their voices were finally heard on Sunday, March 13th when I. King Jordan was selected to become the new president of Gallaudet. Both Zinser and Spelman had resigned and all four of the protesters demands had been met. Jordan later was famously quoted in an interview- “Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.”