Deaf Movement at Gallaudet University: Deaf President Now

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In 1988, students at Gallaudet University came together to formed a single "voice" that was heard, but more profoundly seen, by the world. Now known as "DPN" ("Deaf President Now"), these deaf students formed a community with a cause. They affected pedagogy: abandoning classes, closing the gates to the school, refusing to budge until their demands were met. They altered the power structure and strengthened their own community: rejecting the newly appointed president and having many of the faculty join their cause. Not long into the protests, deaf schools in Canada and West Germany closed on their behalf, and the media swarmed in, fumbling in its attempts to get interviews from students who didn't speak and to record rallies in which protesting "voices" were a sea of silent, limp wrists waved above 2,000 heads. These students wanted an end to the oligopoly; they wanted a voice, akin to their own, representing them in the decisions that effected their school and their lives. They wanted, quite simply, a Deaf president. For 124 years, Gallaudet's president had been hearing; for 124 years, these hearing presidents had been elected by a principally hearing board of directors; for 124 years, Deaf held no authority, had no representation, at the single place they should most have it-their exclusive, one-of-a-kind Deaf university. So, on March 9th, their hearing board elected yet another hearing president over two deaf and fully qualified candidates, Gallaudet's students decided on protest. Forming a powerful and cohesive voice, these students made themselves very visible in the news, and increased Deaf awareness worldwide about a dozen times over. By the time that week was up, their short-lived hearing president had resigned; their hea... ... middle of paper ... ... Gallaudet had come of age through language, because of language. Now that they had a language to call their own, a language that even the dominant hearing culture could no longer refuse to grant "reality" status to, those students had something to stand on. Before the linguistic acceptance of a language they called their own, deaf people, either culturally or individually, had no wedge against the dominant "social grammar" or any way to persuade and empower. Persuasion and power, definition and acceptance of both self and society, begins with language in all cultures. And such socially and individually constructed beginnings among deaf people, such issues of literate and linguistic (re)definition with the use of ASL, and such successful displays of power and persuasion as occurred at Gallaudet in 1988 form the core of studies in rhetoric, literacy, and culture.

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