Printers and Deaf President Now

This exhibit page was developed by students as part of course requirements in HIS 395:01: Digital Storytelling: Jacqueline Gonzalez, Nevan Graves, Lexi Hill, and Tye Lovato.


This commemorative poster, created by Deaf printer Dick Moore, combined the week-long coverage of Deaf President Now events in The Washington Post.

In March 1988 students and community members at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., protested the appointment of the University’s president by engaging in several demonstrations on campus and throughout the city. At the nearby Washington Post Deaf printers were involved in different ways. As alumni and advocates, many printers supported the week-long movement. Some joined students in protest and others influenced the media coverage of the events.

The movement was started when students from Gallaudet University marched to the Mayflower hotel, which is right next to the Washington Post. They were joined by alumni and advocates, including Deaf printers. Together they protested to support the appointment of a Deaf president for Gallaudet University to and criticize the selection of Dr. Elisabeth Zinser as president. Deaf printers worked closely with the writers and editors, who covered the protest in The Washington Post everyday during the week.

What is DPN?

Front page of the journal On the Green featuring an article announcing Zinser's appointment as president.

This front-page image of the campus newspaper, On the Green, announced the appointment of Elizabeth Zinser as the University's seventh president.

In March 1988, Gallaudet University's Board of Trustees had six candidates running for president. Among the six candidates, four were hearing and two were Deaf. Gallaudet students had been wanting a deaf president for several years because they wanted to have a president who represented them and belonged to the deaf community.

Also faculty members who were on the President's Council on Deafness (PCD) actively supported a Deaf president. The PCD was an advocacy and advice group for Gallaudet's deaf teachers and workers. It fought for the rights of deaf workers in the workplace. After the previous president Jerry Lee resigned, this faculty organization quickly planned a town hall meeting and wrote the presidential search committee to ask them to seek qualified deaf presidential candidates. The PCD recommended I. King Jordan and Harvey Corson because none of the hearing applicants had experience with deafness or deaf individuals.

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees picked a hearing president, Elisabeth Zinser, and that decision led to a protest on the part of a large number of students, alumni, faculty, and staff members at Gallaudet University.

Once the Board of Trustees selected Zinser, protesters organized rallies, marches, and closed down campus for the week. From Sunday March 6 to Sunday March 13 the campus was overrun with Deaf President Now protesters.

Gallaudet students Tim Rarus, Jerry Covell, Greg Hlibok, and Bridgetta Bourne – all involved with Student Body Government (SBG) – were chosen as the student leaders. They had four demands for the Board of Trustees:

  1. A deaf president must replace Zinser.
  2. Spilman must resign.
  3. The Board of Trustees needs 51% deaf members.
  4. Protesters cannot be punished. 

Throughout the protest they coordinated media and fundraising, worked with interpreters, law enforcement, and groups of protesters. Speeches and rallies were held all throughout the week. The events were front-page local news, and scores of reporters arrived at the university. Protesters mostly wanted to talk to the media. For deaf interviews, sign language interpreters wore colored bracelets. Also, students on campus skipped class and went to protests and speeches when the entrance gates were reopened. The media at this point had expanded to include national television and newspapers.

In this archival footage from Gallaudet Video Services, student protesters are blocking the entrance to campus with signs and chants for a Deaf president. Time: 1:03. The video is not captioned.

On Thursday, March 10 Elisabeth Zinser finally gave up and quit when she was unable to convince student leaders or remain faithful to the responsibilities that were selected to her. At that time, she claimed that her decision to step down was not in response to the protests, but rather to clear the way for the civil rights movement to make more progress. Zinser insisted that she had no ill will toward the demonstrators who called for her resignation and advocated for it.

During the three days she was president of Gallaudet, she never stepped foot on the campus. Despite the fact that she never went there, a picture of her is hanging next to pictures of Gallaudet's previous presidents. Following her resignation the Board of Trustees again met. They resolved to meet the other demands; Jane Spilman resigned from the Board and a task force was established to ensure that the board would be composed of 51% Deaf members. There were no reprisals for students and faculty for participating in the protest. In addition, the first deaf president, I. King Jordan, was appointed on March 13, 1988.

On the Ground

In this video clip protesters gather at the Mayflower Hotel before Jane Spilman, president of the Board of Trustees, addresses them. Deaf Printer Jan DeLap is briefly interviewed and is visible in the background as Spilman and Jerry Covell discuss the composition of the voting board members. Time: 2:17. Click to enable English captions. Transcription here

When the appointment of Zinser was announced Sunday evening March 6th 1988, the students were angry and frustrated. That evening, the Board of Trustees were gathered at the Mayflower Hotel. After gathering together on campus, the students decided to begin their protest with the march to the Mayflower Hotel. They demanded to meet with Board.

The Board of Trustees initially refused to meet with the students but then they agreed to meeting with a few student leaders such as Tim Rarus and Greg Hlibok. Board member, Jane Spilman, and others met with protesters in front of the building but they were unable to subdue the protesters.

In this video Brian Brizendine and Janie Golightly describe how Deaf printers participated at the protest at the Mayflower Hotel. Time: 3:30. Click to enable English captions. Transcription here.

What made this unique was that the protest became bigger than simply those who attended Gallaudet. The protest incorporated members of the Deaf community at large, including the Deaf printers at The Washington Post. When informed of the situation, the printers found ways to leave work and participate in the protest as Gallaudet alumni and as members of the Deaf community.

This protest at the Mayflower Hotel initiated the overall protest that would last a week. It was such a visible and public demonstration that the country couldn’t ignore it. Other alumni and fellow Deaf people showed support through donations in addition to showing up in person to show their support. The Deaf community watched in earnest, following along with each event that took place during the week.

In the Room

In this video Janie Golightly and Dick Moore describe how Deaf printers influenced the language used to describe the DPN protest. Time: 1:14. Click to enable English captions. Transcription here

During the event of DPN, a such huge magnitude of Deaf-led protest for a greater good of the Deaf and Gallaudet community, an accurate representation of reporting news was a necessity. As mentioned above, the Deaf printers at the Washington Post often participated in the protests. They had firsthand accounts of the experiences, and when they were tasked with putting together the news and printing the copies of the newspapers, they were the first people to read the articles written by hearing people and they shaped the coverage.

The Washington Post writers’ room was full of hearing people without any deep and intensive knowledge of Deaf culture and history which was a problem of its own.  The Deaf printers had access to the information on both ends – in the community and at the Washington Post which made them critical figures in the distribution of accurate information. So often, the writers would come down to the printing room to chat with the printers to get their firsthand accounts and their cultural understanding of the events taking place that week.That’s where Deaf printers of Washington Post came in the picture, providing their feedback and input before the paper was published. 

Printers often worked with editors on the floor to revise and proof texts. For this protest, the Deaf printers directly influenced the language used to describe Deaf people. The perfect instance of this is when Deaf printers corrected the use of “hearing-impaired” to “Deaf” in the articles. The term hearing-impaired is considered to be offensive and derogatory as it suggests that there is something lacking and needs to be fixed. On the other hand, Deaf refers to a cultural identity that ought to be celebrated and accepted.

As seen in the video above, Deaf printers Janie Golightly and Dick Moore recollected their experience in the printers’ room as they scoured the paper for any revision and pointed out that the use of word “hearing-impaired” isn’t an appropriate term, especially for the article announcing that I. King Jordan – a Deaf (instead of hearing-impaired as initially written) person had been named as the next president of Gallaudet University.

In this video Brian Brizendine describes the relationship between Deaf printers and reporters at The Post during DPN. Time: 19 seconds. Click to enable English captions. Transcription here.

In the second interview clip with Brian Brizendine, he explains the time where editors came to Deaf printers and sought their experiences as a Deaf person and Gallaudet student if applicable. Gallaudet alumni in the printing room had better inputs as they knew what it was like to have a hearing president at a Deaf university. Brian was one of them and he had provided valuable input on the articles. This workplace dynamics allowed editors to have a better understanding of Deaf culture and write the coverage of protest with more authenticity to it.


Deaf Printers impacted the world’s perspective on the DPN movement through the media. Their work contributed to the events of DPN from their past to future students’ stake in the DPN movement due to their own experience of oppression and they wanted  do want to see Gallaudet change  by and participatinge in the eventful week of the March 1988 protest that shook the world. By the end of the week, President Zinser had resigned. Board member Spilman had resigned. I. King Jordan was appointed to become the eighth president of Gallaudet University, and the first Deaf president. The dream of Deaf President Now was now reality, and the Deaf Washington Post printers played a role in the fulfillment of that dream. 

Printers and Deaf President Now