The Day of Silence: Observing silence to encourage speech

by Kathryn Willgus

The Day of Silence is an annual, student-led demonstration against LGBTQ harassment and discrimination. It has become the largest student-led protest to discrimination in schools and in the community since the first Day of Silence at the University of Virginia in 1996. Every year, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) provides information and support for all those participating, as well as dedicating each year to a victim of LGBTQ harassment. Last Friday, April 19, was the eighteenth annual demonstration of the Day of Silence across the country.

This year, the Sewanee Gay-Straight Alliance hosted the Day of Silence on campus April 17, taking liberties with the scheduled date of the event as to not disrupt Spring Festivus. The club provided information from the GLSEN website, helpful advice for informing teachers and peers of the silence, and a “Breaking the Silence” dinner and discussion of the event. The GSA yarn-bombed a light post in front of the library (arguably the most high-traffic area on campus) to send a thought-provoking message to the students about the demonstration.

Many students that participated in the Day of Silence printed out information cards, wore ribbons, and emailed their professors ahead of time. Most professors understood and accepted the event, recognized their students participating, and even expressed disappointment for not being able to participate themselves. The Facebook event page that the GSA set up for the Day of Silence recorded 47 participants, and the yarn-bombing on campus has attracted much attention. Although these participants are only a fraction of the student body here at Sewanee, the silence in interactions between friends and during class participation seemed to have an effect on many students, professors, and community members.

The “Breaking the Silence” dinner consisted of a group of students who participated sharing their stories about the experience. Most students reported having positive experiences, while only a few negative reactions were relayed. Most of all, the GSA learned in many ways from these students what the organization could do to improve the event in Sewanee in years to come.