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The Deaf President Now (DPN) movement of 1988 was fueled by such widespread passion and energy that in just seven days it totally transformed life for deaf people, creating opportunities that previously were almost unimaginable. Former Gallaudet University Board of Trustees chairs Philip Bravin (’66), Glenn Anderson (’68), and Pamela Young-Holmes (’74) shared their impressions on this historic event and its lasting impact at a February 13 panel discussion in the Kellogg Conference Center’s Swindells Auditorium, the second in a series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of DPN.
Dr. Bravin is vice president for business development and outreach for ZVRS. He was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1994 and, following DPN, became its first deaf chair, serving in that capacity until he stepped down from the board.
Dr. Anderson, a long-time educator at the University of Arkansas and presently a faculty member in the Interpreter Education Program, is also regional advisor and board member for National Black Deaf Advocates. He joined the Board of Trustees in 1989 and became chair when Bravin resigned; he held the post until he stepped down from the board in 2005.
Young-Holmes is director of consumer and regulatory affairs and director of CapTel customer service for Ultratec, Inc., and was appointed by President Obama as a member of the National Council on Disability. She joined the Board of Trustees in 2002 and was a member until 2007, her final year as chair.
President Hurwitz, panel moderator, kicked-off the discussion by asking the panelists the first thought that came to mind when DPN is mentioned. Bravin said for him it is the realization that DPN was nothing less than a civil rights movement for deaf people. For Holmes-Young, it is the fact that DPN “raised the bar” for deaf people, serving as a catalyst that changed the status quo, breaking down barriers that had prevented deaf people from reaching their full potential.
Asked how DPN affected their careers, Bravin replied that, like Dr. I King Jordan (’70) stated during a February 5 panel discussion with Gallaudet’s first three deaf presidents, “I knew I could not fail.” The eyes of the world were on deaf people, and the stakes were high-it was imperative that they succeed. Bravin added that becoming the first deaf chair of the board carried special challenges, particularly considering that he had been given no advance time to prepare for the role. “I was not expecting to be the board chair; there had been no discussion, but [Jane] Spilman resigned and it was offered to me.” Moving the board forward past the turmoil created in its ranks by DPN, and achieving a 51 percent majority of deaf board members was a challenge, but Bravin said he had plenty of support. “I feel good about what we did,” he said, adding that he is working on a book about his DPN experiences.
“Before DPN, thinking that I could serve my alma mater in this capacity was something that I would never have considered,” Anderson said of being named Board of Trustees chair. “It’s a 24/7 job, there were very high expectations, and enormous responsibility, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.” Holmes, who was chair during the time of transition when Dr. Jordan stepped down as president and Dr. Robert Davila (G-’53) took the post, pointed to the many advances in communication access for deaf people that can be linked to the lasting impact of DPN.
Indeed, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be directly attributed to DPN, the former board chairs agreed. Bravin recalled Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a co-sponsor of the ADA, saying that if it hadn’t been for DPN, the ADA would never have become law.
The panelists lamented that many of today’s deaf youth are not fully aware of DPN, and take for granted the technological advances that they enjoy today. Gallaudet students, however, will have an opportunity be enlightened of the movement and the struggles undertaken by previous generations. A General Studies course on DPN is currently being taught by Tyrone Giordano, and a course on the subject is being developed for the undergraduate curriculum by Dr. Brian Greenwald, a Gallaudet history professor and co-chair of the DPN 25 celebration. These courses will not only help them understand the relevancy of history, but see the importance of doing their part to ensure continued change for their descendants.
“DPN changed Gallaudet forever. Gallaudet will never be the same, that’s for sure,” said Anderson. He recalled the words of DPN student leader Tim Rarus (’89), who said that DPN was a revolution that transformed the lives of deaf people, “But really, it’s just the beginning, said Anderson. “There is still much to be done.”
More about the DPN Board of Trustees panel
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