When a Deaf Person Became President of Gallaudet University

Watershed Event in Deaf History

Q: What major event took place in the deaf community in 1988?

A: Deaf President Now (DPN)! In March 1988 deaf students at Gallaudet University rose in protest and it became known as "the week that the world heard Gallaudet."

I had already graduated the previous year, so I was unable to participate, but I took it all in from the sidelines.

I woke up one morning in March 1988, a cold and snowy day and went down to the corner to purchase my daily newspaper as was my habit.

The headline on the newspaper was stunning: Students Close Gallaudet University. I couldn't believe it!

As the week unfolded, details started trickling out bit by bit. An old friend who was outside the Mayflower hotel when it all began told me how angry students threw the announcement that a hearing president had been hired, to the ground. He told me how the students had marched all the way from that hotel to Capitol Hill or the University (I can not remember which it was).

One night I drove to the campus just to see what was going on and to get a taste of the atmosphere. It was unreal, with the students totally in charge. I was allowed on campus because I was deaf and an alumnus, but they turned back others who were not deaf.

The editorial cartoons, the marches, Marlee Matlin on Nightline...that week was so memorable. It marked a true turning point for the deaf/hoh community. Employers began to take more notice of potential deaf employees, deaf people who had never been promoted received promotions, people around the world started to change their attitudes, and deafness was everywhere in the media for awhile.

What was most impressive about that week was the way the deaf/hoh community pulled together and the public relations machine was so effective. It showed that when the deaf/hoh community really wants something, it knows how to get it.

Deaf President Now is ancient history to the current generation of deaf children.

But it paved the way so that a deaf child today CAN dream of becoming president of Gallaudet University.

As everyone was saying in 1988...PAH!

You can relive the Deaf President Now movement by enjoying the Deaf President Now book from Gallaudet University Press.

Gallaudet University also maintains a Deaf President Now website. The site presents the complete history of Deaf President Now, covering issues, viewpoints, activities, profiles, and the impact of DPN.

Another book is Triumph of the Spirit: The DPN Chronicle, by Dr. Angel Ramos, who had chaired the Deaf President Now Fund. This book tells the DPN story from a student perspective.

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