Deaf President Now was a protest conducted by the students of Gallaudet University. Spanning from March 7 to March 13 1988, the protest came as a reaction to the selection of yet another Hearing University President, Dr. Elizabeth A. Zinser. Despite having no understanding of American Sign Language, the Board of Trustees chose her over two other Deaf candidates. At the time, the Board was composed of 17 hearing members and 4 Deaf members.
For the next 6 days, students rallied together and barricaded all entrances to the school, locking out staff and faculty. If the school was to be reopened, they had four demands to be met:
1 Zinser’s resignation and the selection of a deaf person as president
2 The resignation of Jane Bassett Spilman, chair of the Board of Trustees ( it was alleged she supported the Board’s decision with the comment that “the deaf are not yet ready to function in the hearing world”)
3 The reconstitution of the Board of Trustees with a 51% majority of deaf members
4 No reprisals against any students or staff members involved in the protest
After much back and forth with the Board and the student body, Elizabeth A. Zinser finally resigned on March 11, 1988. Dr. I. King Jordan took her place as President of Gallaudet and the rest of their demands were met. On March 13, Dr. Jordan delivered his famous line in his first speech as President:
“Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.”
Since then, agencies and services for the deaf have included deaf and hard of hearing workers to represent their clients. They now have stronger voices when it comes to the decisions made about them and will continue to uphold that right for years to come.
This moment in Deaf history stands as a reminder to all communities that representation is an important part of integration. To empower a people, you must give them someone they identify with to lead them.