Phillips Academy Pledges Silence During Classes for the Gay-Straight Alliance’s Annual Day of Silence

Last Friday was quieter than usual around Phillips Academy’s campus. Over 256 students vowed not to speak during the school day, as part of the Day of Silence, an event sponsored by Phillips Academy’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Andover’s participation was part of a national youth-sponsored movement to increase awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) harassment in schools. The protest was also supposed to symbolize the silencing and suppression of LGBT people. The Day of Silence also commemorated the death of Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old who committed suicide after being bullied for his sexual orientation. Hoover would have celebrated his twelfth birthday on Friday, April 17. Students who participated in the Day of Silence received a card explaining their involvement to teachers and a sticker indicating their involvement. More students this year pledged silence. “Compared to the previous two years, we had increased participation and enthusiasm,” wrote Dominic DeJesus ’10, Co-President of GSA, in an email. This year’s Day of Silence also featured a celebration at the end of the school day to celebrate the end of silence. Students who observed the Day of Silence gathered on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall at 2:50 p.m. to resume talking. Dejesus wrote, “We hoped breaking the silence would bring the day to a close as a community.” Frank Tipton, faculty advisor to GSA, said, “I thought breaking the silence was a good addition to the day. It allowed students to celebrate being part of a movement.” Miranda Haymon ’12, a participant in the Day of Silence, said, “Even though some people might have had to break the silence for some reason, just making the effort of not speaking is powerful and really shows you care about a cause.” Students involved in the Day of Silence could not participate in classroom discussions, a change that may have disrupted some classes. Adam Tohn ‘10 said, “I’d say overall teachers were comfortable with the day, although it was obviously disruptive.” Margot Pinckney ’11 said, “As someone who was signing up people to participate, I know a lot of teachers were enthusiastic. But going through my classes, I could tell that some were not as happy as they could be when they saw how it affected their lessons. “I felt most of my teachers were helpful and understanding,” said Na Young Park ’12. “For example, in math class, those of us who were silent but needed to answer a question could just raise our and hold up the number of fingers for the answer.” Peter Drench, Chair of the History and Social Sciences Department, said that the Day of Silence “was not a handicap in any of my classes.” He continued, “However, I could imagine in some classes, especially those where a majority or all students were observing the Day of Silence, it could fundamentally change what could be accomplished.” Andover is not the only school to participate in the Day of Silence. Other boarding schools, including Hotchkiss and Choate, are scheduled to hold similar events to raise awareness about LGBT issues. At Choate, however, students chose to have a Day of Discussion instead of a Day of Silence. A member of Choate’s GSA, Cason Crane, wrote in an email, “[The Day of Discussion] helped reduce the idea of simply accepting the abstract idea of having gay students on campus and allowed people to see the reality of the situation.” Hotchkiss’s Day of Silence will take place later this month. Faculty advisor to Hotchkiss’s GSA, James Marshall, wrote in an email, “There is a certain amount of opposition from faculty on two major grounds. First, it allows students who have not done their homework…to have a free pass. Secondly, some faculty believe that a Day of Silence sends the wrong message—it should be a day of talk.”