WASHINGTON -- Deaf students celebrated the success of a campus crusade that won the appointment of Gallaudet University's first hearing-impaired president, saying opportunities will open for the deaf everywhere.
'Now we have respect; we have everything. It's just the beginning for all of us,' student body President Greg Hlibok said.
The board of trustees for the nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf surprised students by bowing to all their outstanding demands Sunday night, just a week after protests began.
The trustees named a deaf president, accepted the resignation of board chairwoman Jane Bassett Spilman, appointed a task force to study whether to fill the majority of the board's 17 seats with deaf people and agreed that no student protesters will be punished.
'I can't believe it,' student leader Jerry Covell said in sign language. 'I feel so inspired. I just can't believe they've decided to respond to all our demands.'
Protesters closed the 2,125-student university each day last week with barricades, attracted thousands on a march to the Capitol and drew support from presidential candidates, congressmen and deaf people around the country. Their cause came to symbolize the right of the deaf to have the opportunity to hold leadership positions.
'Imagine the ripple effect it will have over the world. It really means a lot to me because it means I will really have more opportunities,' said Patti Moore, coordinator of Gallaudet's National Adult and Continuing Education Program.
Protest leaders told 300 students gathered on campus of the board's decisions, and they rejoiced by crying, shouting, jumping and hugging each other.
'We ask you to hug each other because we are united and we will never be divided,' Covell said. 'This will have a big influence on you. We will be togetherfor the rest of our lives.'
A week ago, the students were enraged that Dr. Elisabeth Ann Zinser of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was appointed president. Her hearing is normal and she does not know sign language. She resigned Thursday to return to her previous job, expressing sympathy for the students' cause and giving the hand sign for 'I love you' at a news conference.
I. King Jordan, 44, the dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences and a graduate of Gallaudet, was named to replace her. He and another deaf candidate had been passed over for Zinser.
'In this week, we can truly say that we, together and united, have overcome our own reluctance to stand for our rights and our full representation,' Jordan told scores of students who gathered at the hotel after the decision was announced.
'The world has watched the deaf community come of age. We will no longer accept limits on what we can achieve,' he said. 'I must give the highest of praise to the students of Gallaudet for showing us all exactly how, even now, one can seize an idea with such force of argument that it becomes a reality.'
Students who had been shouting 'Deaf President Now!' changed their chant to 'Deaf President Wow!' when Jordan addressed them.
The board named Philip Bravin, a deaf trustee whose 19-year-old deaf son is a Gallaudet student, to replace the resigning Spilman, who said she stepped down willingly.
'In the minds of some, I have become an obstacle to the future of the university,' she said. 'And because I care very deeply about Gallaudet's future, I am removing the obstacle.'
During the protest, students accused the board of trustees of insensitivity to the problems of the deaf.
'I don't think they have a sufficient understanding of deafness or an empathy for us,' protester Jackie Kinner said. 'I don't even think that members of the board have ever taken a deaf person out to dinner.'