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Video presentation reveals behind-the-scenes role of "Ducks" in DPN

Image: The seven Ducks are pictured at a March 9 reception in "Ole Jim" that was held following a panel presentation by the four student leaders of DPN, who also attended the event. Pictured (from left) are: Dwight Benedict, Gallaudet's dean of student affairs; Michael O'Donnell, professor in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture at George Washington University, Washington D.C.; Stephen Hlibok, financial advisor for Merrill Lynch; Jeff Rosen, ZVRS general counsel; Fred Weiner, Gallaudet's assistant vice president for administration; James Tucker, superintendent of Maryland School for the Deaf-Frederick; and Paul Singleton, Purple Video Relay Services' director of government and strategic accounts. (Photo by Alyce Slater Reynolds)

The seven Ducks are pictured at a March 9 reception in "Ole Jim" that was held following a panel presentation by the four student leaders of DPN, who also attended the event. Pictured (from left) are: Dwight Benedict, Gallaudet's dean of student affairs; Michael O'Donnell, professor in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture at George Washington University, Washington D.C.; Stephen Hlibok, financial advisor for Merrill Lynch; Jeff Rosen, ZVRS general counsel; Fred Weiner, Gallaudet's assistant vice president for administration; James Tucker, superintendent of Maryland School for the Deaf-Frederick; and Paul Singleton, Purple Video Relay Services' director of government and strategic accounts. (Photo by Alyce Slater Reynolds)

As part of Gallaudet's 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now (DPN), Utah Valley University (UVU) Deaf Studies Coordinator Ben Jarashow, '04 & G-'06, shared his video, "The Seven Ducks: Behind the DPN Movement" on March 7 about the remembrances of the seven alumni leaders when they were planning what became a pivotal event in the civil rights of deaf people in 1988.

Jarashow is now pursuing his doctoral degree media and communications at the European Graduate School program in Switzerland, and his video clips are part of his doctoral dissertation. Additionally, He has been teaching the Gallaudet online course "Oral Traditions in the Deaf Community" from UVU for the past three years. Jarashow remarked, "My heart is always with Gallaudet."

The "Ducks" were: Dwight Benedict, '80, Stephen Hlibok, '85, Michael O'Donnell, '84 & G-'96, Jeff Rosen, '82, Paul Singleton, '81 & G-'89, Jamie Tucker, '81, and Fred Weiner, '88. O'Donnell came up with the nickname for the group because the idea of a DPN rally in March 1988 originated the previous month during a meeting at a duckpin bowling alley in Riverdale, Md., not far from the Gallaudet campus.

"Without the unique contribution of each of the seven Ducks, the DPN movement would not exist," said Jarashow. He wanted to share these contributions by making a documentary about the Ducks' behind-the-scenes plans to build momentum for DPN, he wanted the group to present themselves in a casual, conversational manner, and he wanted to capture their discussions without disrupting the flow of talk.

The Ducks continue to stay in contact with each other. "(The Ducks) get together every May for fun, but we never talked about DPN until the interview," said Benedict. Jarashow set up the on-camera interview in the basement of Benedict's home in May 2006. To achieve a feeling of intimacy, like the audience is watching a group of friends gathered for a chat, Jarashow used a camera focused on each member, and an eighth camera taping the group as a whole.

A number of fascinating, little-known facts are revealed from the conversation. For example, because some of the Ducks were Gallaudet employees, they had to organize the rally anonymously to avoid a conflict of interest with Gallaudet's official position on the selection of a president, said Benedict, who at the time was assistant director of student life. "It was difficult for me to know that students were pulling the fire alarm to get other students' attention, because it was against the rules," said Benedict, who is now the University's dean of student affairs.

Each of the Ducks had his own role to play in making DPN successful by careful planning behind the scenes. All of the Ducks were accessible to the media to promote the DPN movement, and they coached student leaders Greg Hlibok, Bridgetta Bourne-Firl, Gerald Covell, and Tim Rarus on how to handle the onslaught of publicity.

"Jeff Rosen was the leader who inspired the Ducks to take action. He came up with the idea for the rally on March 1," said Weiner. "The rally was an important event that helped generate the critical mass of public support on and off campus that ultimately led to the spontaneous protest the night (Elisabeth) Zinser was selected. The rest is history." After DPN began, Rosen continued to work behind the scenes as Gallaudet students and alumni took a more public and prominent role, said Weiner.

Weiner added that he served as the main liaison between the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and DPN, and he spoke at the rally on behalf of the NAD. "Prior to the rally, I helped author the petitions and supported the letter writing campaign, including a letter from the NAD to every member of Congress, and was one of the NAD spokesperson with the media." Weiner said. "I was also the go-between for the people who funded the flyers, buttons, and stickers, and the rally organizers."

Singleton, then a Gallaudet graduate student with many connections with student leaders, deaf leaders, and the NAD, served in a variety of roles. He was also the one who wrote the four demands that were presented to the Board of Trustees-a deaf president to lead Gallaudet, the resignation of board chair Jane Bassett Spilman, a 51 percent majority of deaf trustees, and no reprisals against anyone involved in the movement. Singleton also served as master of ceremonies at Capitol Hill events and was alumni liaison. O'Donnell worked as sergeant at arms, helping the U.S. Capitol Police with crowd control and assigning interpreters on the Capitol grounds.

Both Tucker and Stephen Hlibok forged close connections with Gallaudet students. Tucker, then an English instructor and faculty advisor for The Buff and Blue student newspaper, had the responsibility of building DPN momentum among faculty, staff, and students. He also helped recruit the student leaders "The March 1 rally on campus was so pivotal in turning hundreds of doubters into believers," said Tucker. "So many deaf people at that time were boxed inside the thought that deaf people could not and should not lead the University." Being his younger brother's mentor, Stephen Hlibok also had the role of networking among stakeholders and influential contacts.

Additionally, Benedict created a group, the DPN Council, made up of four student leaders, four faculty members (including Tucker), four staff members, and four alumni/representatives from the deaf community, and moderated its meetings. Benedict also pushed the DPN Council to develop guidelines for law and order during the movement to ensure the proceedings were peaceful.

"It was very good to see the seven Ducks in their element-Ben (Jarashow) did a great job piecing that conversation together. My only regret is that (the video) wasn't longer," said Tyrone Giordano '99, adjunct professor in the Department of Deaf Studies. "You could easily make an entire documentary on all seven Ducks."

The seven Ducks were part of a March 9 reception in "Ole Jim" that followed a panel discussion by the four DPN student leaders that was sponsored by the University and the Gallaudet University Alumni Association (GUAA). The gathering marked the first reunion in 20 years for all the members of both groups, noted Sam Sonnenstrahl, executive director of alumni relations and the GUAA. President Hurwitz gave opening remarks and Sherry Duhon, '77, served as emcee. Other notable individuals who were part of the program were Phil Bravin, who became the first deaf chair of the Board of Trustees following DPN, and--via video presentation--Dr. I King Jordan, the University's first deaf president, and Gerald "Bummy" Burstein, GUAA president at the time of DPN. In addition, current GUAA President Alyce Slater Reynolds presented DPN Fund checks for $1,000 to Student Body Government (SBG) President Stephanie Johnston and SBG Vice President Brandon Williams, both of the Class of 2014, to support their Gallaudet education. The reception also featured a DPN exhibit set up by alumni and the Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives.

"The spirit was very high," Sonnenstrahl said of the mood at the reception. "The feeling closely resembled DPN when many people from different backgrounds came together to fight for a single cause."

--By Megan Clancy

 

 

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