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Students Participate In National Day of Silence

Last Wednesday, almost 200 Phillips Academy students joined half a million other students nationwide to protest forced silence by not saying a word. March 18 marked the 11th annual National Day of Silence, a student-led movement in which participants pledge to remain silent for an entire day to acknowledge the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender community. The event recognizes and protests the “discrimination and harassment — in effect, the silencing — experienced by LGBT students and their allies,” according to the Day of Silence website. Participants on campus wore black ribbons and carried cards that explained the day to other students and teachers. “The Day of Silence brings forward the gay rights issue and acknowledges it. The day also has a national effect in bringing up the subject of the difficult experience of hiding sexuality and commemorating the silence of people who are forced to stay quiet,” said Liz Brown ’09, co-head of Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). For many participants, the experience of the movement takes on a more personal level. “I know a lot of [LBGT] friends who are afraid to say certain things or to say how they really feel,” said Nette Oot ’09, co-head of GSA. “It’s really unfair that they can’t express their true personalities.” In a 2005 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “four out of five LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30% report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety.” “I think the day in general allows the community to get a feeling of the strength of the gay rights movement, because it’s surprising how many people are willing to go through this inconvenience for an abstract cause,” said James Foster ’09. Although the objective of the day is to stay silent, students were given guidelines on being reasonable with their silence in situations that require speaking. Participating students were asked to break their silence for a job, an interview, or an oral exam. The guidelines made it clear that the Day of Silence was about raising awareness, not causing trouble, and that participants would not be automatically excused from class participation. A GSA paper asked, “For LGBT people, staying silent or speaking out is often a difficult choice and requires sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice for your principles?” The Day of Silence also affects teachers’ classes, as some participants choose not to participate in class. “At first I was confused. As a language teacher especially, oral participation is a big portion of teaching, so it was really difficult for me in the beginning,” said Teruyo Shimazu, Instructor in Japanese. She continued, “People constantly talk about human rights; however, freedom always comes with responsibility. The Day of Silence is good in that by participating for one day, students have more empathy for people who have to stay silent all the time. I think the physical experience is more effective rather than just talking about helping in theory.” Although the Day of Silence has not met any active opposition at Andover, the same cannot be said for other schools nationwide. There are websites dedicated to promoting anti-Day of Silence opinions and action, as well as parents who prevent their children from attending school on the national Day of Silence. “By being silent on this day, people are loudly expressing their feelings. Parents and kids who ignore or oppose those who are staying silent are basically being deaf,” said Oot. The first Day of Silence was organized in 1996 by students in the University of Virginia as a class assignment on non-violence protests. Over 150 students participated, and it was felt to be such a success that Maria Pulzetti ’95 and Jessie Gilliam were motivated to expand the project onto a national scale. The next year, about 100 colleges and universities participated, and from there the project continued to grow. The event was further publicized after its acquirement by GLSEN and the United States Student Association (USSA) through both extensive local and national media coverage.