The weeklong stand by students at Gallaudet University was driven by a cause so unquestionably just it captured the imagination of the nation.
Television cameras, newspaper reporters and national curiosity descended on the Washington, D.C., campus as a small crowd of deaf students fought for the university's first deaf president.Ted Koppel chatted about the subject on Nightline, congressmen publicly took sides and presidential hopefuls played the protest to their political advantage.
Utah's deaf watched events on the small campus intently. One Utahn, Milo Garcia, was immersed in the protest, making placards, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and protesting in front of the White House. Although Garcia's hearing is normal, he is pursuing a master's degree at Gallaudet because he wants to work with deaf people.
He ardently supported what the students were fighting for. The university that professed to teach deaf students that all things were possible with enough education and persistence had never, in its 125-year history, had a deaf president.
The students' frustration tapped Garcia's own frustration. "The deaf are a minority," he said in a telephone interview from Washington. "I have grown up as a minority. I have seen prejudice all my life. I felt like denying these students a hearing-impaired president was an injustice. I really believed in the principles they were fighting for: upward mobility for deaf people and a chance to participate equally."
Garcia is a Hispanic who grew up in Salt Lake City. He is one of several Utahns with ties to Gallaudet.
Utah has its own community of deaf people who attended the nation's only college for the deaf. Nearly 50 Utahns are members of the Beehive Gallaudet University Alumni Association for the Deaf. During the weeklong lockout at the school, they read newspapers avidly and cheered when they saw people they knew on television.
They are thrilled by the outcome of the protest. Several believe the resignation of the hearing president and the appointment of a hearing-impaired president pulls down one more barrier between the deaf and the white-collar jobs they aspire to.
"It's about time," said Dorothy Young, Utah alumni association vice president.
"It's been 124 years," said Fred Bass, a former student and Utah alumni treasurer.
Bass, Dorothy and her husband, Fay, are deaf. With the aid of an interpreter, the three used sign language to explain the struggles deaf have in a hearing world. All three work as newspaper mailers in the mail room of the Newspaper Agency Corp.
Aside from deaf teachers at the deaf schools they attended, the three couldn't point to any deaf role models in the professional world.
"Deaf have the ability to work in professional jobs, but not the opportunity," Dorothy Young said.
Jane Anglin, a young woman with normal hearing, watched her deaf parents struggle most of their lives for opportunity.
"My dad had to work three jobs because he could never get a decent job," Anglin said. "He finally got hired at Hill Air Force Base, but he was 53 years old. It had taken him half his life to find a decent job."
Anglin's mother was recently hired by the health department. Before that, she did assembly work for years on end, despite repeated efforts to find better work.
Dorothy Young wonders if her deafness cost her a job she sought. Although having a college degree and a teacher's certificate, she was turned down for a teacher-aide job in Idaho Falls. She had hoped to work in one of the two deaf classes at the school, but was told there were no openings.
"Many, many doors are closed to us still," Fay Young said.
The three share the hope of the deaf throughout the nation that the appointment of hearing-impaired President I. King Jordan at Gallaudet will open just one of those many doors.