In 1987, Gallaudet University
president Jerry C. Lee announced he would be leaving the position to become the vice-president of Bassett Industries
. This sparked a debate
, with many students believing the time had come for a deaf
president to lead the university
. Two of the three finalists were deaf, but on March 6, 1988 the university's Board of Trustees
announced that they had selected Elisabeth A. Zinser, the hearing assistant chancellor of the Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina
. A number of students, backed by many alumni
, staff, and faculty, responded by shutting down the campus
for a full week.
Day by Day
March 6, 1988 - The decision of Zinser's selection was announced via flyers handed out on campus 90 minutes before the Board was supposed to visit campus to announce the choice. Several hundred angry students blocked traffic in front of campus on Florida Avenue until Gary Olsen, then president of the National Association of the Deaf, suggested they march to the Mayflower Hotel and demand an explanation of the board members still there. When they arrived, Spilman and Phil Bravin - a deaf member of the Board - were busy answering questions from reporters and chaos broke out as sthe students approached. In a meeting with representatives of the student body, Spilman supposedly said "deaf people are not able to function in a hearing world" though she has long denied making the statement. She agreed to come to campus the following afternoon to continue the discussion. By midnight, most students had left the hotel and gone to the White House to meet up with other students who had gone there instead. The group then walked to the U.S. Capitol before returning to Kendall Green.
March 7, 1988 - At dawn, several students drove cars to each campus entrance and deflated the tires. They blocked administrators from gaining access by forming a human chain, but permitted faculty and staff to get through. Rallies were held throughout the morning, and when Spilman arrived at noon she was presented with four demands by protest leaders. They insisted that Zinser resign and a deaf president must be selected, and that Spilman must also step down. The third demand was that the percentage of deaf Board members be increased to at least 51%, and their last demand was that there be no reprisals against any of the protesters. Spilman rejected the demands and planned to go to the auditorium to announce her position, but deaf faculty member Harvey Goodstein beat her to it and convinced everyone there was no use in staying if their demands were not met. Protestors again marched to the Capitol, and became front page news. Interpreters wore arm bands so they could be identified if members of the press wished to speak with a deaf person.
March 8, 1988 - The gates to the campus were reopened on Tuesday, but students boycotted classes and attended rallies instead while the faculty met to discuss the situation. Four students - Bridgetta Bourne, Jerry Covell, Greg Hlibok (president of the Student Body Government), and Tim Rarus - became the leaders of the protest, and met in Alumni House with other members of the Deaf President Now Council, including faculty, alumni, media, staff, and legal liaisons. By that evening, the protest had become news nationwide.
March 9, 1988 - Zinser arrived in Washington, D.C., believing that her presence would help end the protest. She met with I. King Jordan, one of the two losing candidates, and he announced that he endorsed and supported her appointment. That afternoon, she and Spilman met with David Bonoir and Steve Gunderson, both Congressmen and members of Gallaudet's Board of Trustees. Having met with the four student leaders earlier that day, the two Congressmen urged Zinser to resign. In the evening, Bonoir announced his support of the protesters and Hlibok, Zinser, and deaf actress Marlee Matlin were interviewed by Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline.
March 10, 1988 - Greg Hlibok appeared again on ABC, this time on Good Morning America. Rallies were held all day, and students from schools for the deaf around the country - including the National Technical Institute for the Deaf - arrived by bus. In the afternoon, I. King Jordan retracted his support of Zinser, announcing that he fully supported the students' four demands. In the evening, Zinser announced her resignation.
March 11, 1988 - Because only three and a half of their demands had been met - no deaf president had yet been chosen - students vowed to skip Spring Break and remain on campus. At noon, they marched to the Capitol once more to listen to speeches from supporters. ABC News named Hlibok their "Person of the Week."
Finally, on Sunday, March 13, Phil Bravin and Jane Spilman held an evening press conference. They announced that Spilman had resigned and Bravin taken her place as chairperson, a task force would be set up to determine the best way to get a 51% deaf majority on the Board, there would be no reprisals, and I. King Jordan would be the eighth president of Gallaudet University.
Perhaps the best statement made in support of the DPN movement was from the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, who said "The problem is not that the students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen."
Source: http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/DPN/ which also has a number of excellent photographs, and some personal recollection.