"But You're Deaf First, Forget That Woman!" Gendering the Deaf President Now Movement

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago)
Octavian Robinson, St. Catherine University
The Deaf President Now (DPN) movement of 1988 is a seminal moment in the civil rights movement for deaf people. DPN took place at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the world’s only liberal arts college for deaf people. The movement urged the Gallaudet board of trustees to appoint the college's first deaf president and move toward deaf-centered governance. Scholars and deaf activists have since then claimed DPN served a significant role in advancing the human, civil, and linguistic rights of deaf people across the globe. However, those narratives have overlooked the role of women in a protest to remove the first woman appointed to Gallaudet's top post. Bridgetta Bourne, the sole woman student leader of the protest, described her loyalties as being torn between supporting a woman's success in breaking the glass barrier and supporting deaf people's advancement within a historically significant space for deaf people. This paper takes on the task of gendering deaf history by excavating the experience of deaf women during DPN through oral history interviews while exploring the tensions at the intersections of gender and ability. This project takes on the task of informing us about broader attitudes about gender, sexism, and minority rights in American society during the latter part of the 20thcentury.