Celebrating DPN's 35th Anniversary

ASL Program
March 19, 2022
A crowd of people cheer and hold signs up in front of Gallaudet University buildings Fowler Hall and Chapel Hall

Thirty-five years ago, Gallaudet University was making headlines in worldwide news for a ground-breaking protest in 1988. After the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet announced the selection of hearing candidate Dr. Elizabeth Zinser as the next president of the university on March 6, 1988, the community responded with outrage.

After years of advocating for deaf leadership at the university, it was the final straw. It was time for the university to reassess its predominantly hearing administration. The Deaf community in Washington D.C., including faculty, staff, students, and allies, took a stand against the oppression of deaf leaders and called for the opportunity to be given to a Deaf president, hence the movement title "Deaf President Now".

The protest only lasted approximately a week. The campus was shut down, and Gallaudet students, backed by a number of alumni, staff, and faculty, presented the Board of Trustees with four demands: 

  1. Elisabeth Zinser must resign and a deaf person selected president;
  2. Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board; and
  4. There would no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

Iconic moments from the protest include the march to the Capitol Building on the National Mall, where students held a large banner reading "We Still Have a Dream", inspired by the messaging of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.

Black and white image of a crowd of people in front of Gallaudet University holding a large banner that reads “We still have a dream”

By the end of the week, the university had garnered global attention and the Board of Trustees had complied to all their demands. Dr. I. King Jordan was named the Gallaudet's eighth-and first-deaf president. To learn more about the history, read more at the Gallaudet University website.

Deaf President Now is a constant inspiration to deaf leaders everywhere because it was a moment in history where our community rallied together to send an important message about authenticity and integrity in leadership. It also speaks volumes about what a community can achieve together when united.

Here's to 35 years since this monumental milestone in our history, and may we continue to strive for bigger goals and accomplishments!


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