Day of Silence

Usually every table of friends, every cluster of students in line at Wilder Dining Hall during lunchtime, is abuzz with talking and laughter. But Friday wasn't a usual day.

On Friday, 45 Brooks School students and six faculty members vowed not to speak in support of the national Day of Silence movement, which seeks to draw attention to the silencing of LGBTQ+ students and urges school leaders to work to be more inclusive.

Amid the lunchtime rush, the silent students — many of whom do not identify as LGBTQ+ — sat and ate in noticeable quiet, prompting all to acknowledge their message and the rainbow ribbon pinned to their chest for the occasion.

"We have a vibrant community here at Brooks," said GSA Advisor and Director of Publications Rebecca Binder (not shown). "We have students who speak up about issues that matter to them, and I'm glad we participate in the GLSEN Day of Silence to bring attention to this issue."

"I believe it is important for our community to see that LGBTQ+ issues are present and relevant to our classmates," Diane Lee '18 wrote in an email to the school community prior to the Day of Silence kickoff.

As co-head of the school's Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) with Amolina Bhat '19, Lee spoke out to encourage others not to speak out on April 27. "Amolina," she added, "is participating because [she says] staying silent prompts her, and the people around her, to think about the struggles that some of our peers face every day."

And those struggles are many, unfortunately. According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), "Nearly four in five LGBTQ students don't see positive LGBTQ representation in their curriculum, nearly nine in 10 experience verbal harassment, and almost a third miss school for feeling unsafe or uncomfortable."

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The Day of Silence was created in 1996 by University of Virginia students for a class assignment on non-violent protests, and inspired 150 classmates to stop speaking for a day in support of LGBTQ students. Following the success of their event, the founders rallied nearly 100 colleges and universities to join them the next year.

Today, upwards of 10,000 students register to join in the Day of Silence every year, reports GLSEN — which aims to end discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in K-12 schools and serves as the organizational sponsor for the event. Participation at Brooks School has become a tradition as well.

GSA Advisor Rebecca Binder noted that 2018 saw more students get involved than have in the past — and she isn't surprised. "Brooks teaches its students to have empathy and engagement — two of our core values — and to consider the lived experiences of others," she said. "In this way, the participating students are applying the lessons that they learn here. I see this drive for understanding, support, connection and community in so many different ways and from so many different perspectives here at Brooks. This is not the only example by any means."

Students have rallied behind the Day of Silence "because bullying, harassment and silencing of LGBTQ students is still very much a problem in America's schools," she added. "The students are engaging in collective action with other students across the country on this day because they want to help make the world a better place. I'm happy that this is a national event, too, because it helps our students see the world beyond the Brooks campus."

On 1160 Great Pond Road, though, the impact was clear. "Students noticed other students who weren't speaking in class or in the dining hall, and they saw the outpouring of support with rainbow ribbons and stickers that those students got from other students who were speaking," said Binder. "That should be noticeable in itself, and will hopefully prompt all of us to think individually about the quiet struggles LGBTQ students face."

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