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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 22, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 16
Thousands of students observe National Day of Silence
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Thousands of students observe National Day of Silence

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Students from thousands of schools around the country observed a day of silence on April 15.

Sponsored by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), the National Day of Silence is a day of action during which students across the country take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Through their activities, students can speak out against harassment and organize for change for their schools and communities.

Every year, more and more students participate in the Day of Silence, which began 13 years ago when University of Virginia students sought a way to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment on campus.

As the day's popularity and exposure have increased, many misperceptions have spread about what the Day of Silence is, why the day exists, and what participating in it means.

While students do have a right to participate in the Day of Silence between classes and before and after school, they may not have the right to stay silent during instructional time if a teacher requests for them to speak. According to Lambda Legal, 'Under the Constitution, public schools must respect students' right to free speech. The right to speak includes the right not to speak, as well as the right to wear buttons or T-shirts expressing support for a cause.'

However, this right doesn't extend to classroom time. 'If a teacher tells a student to answer a question during class, the student generally doesn't have a constitutional right to refuse to answer.'

GLSEN officials say they remind participants that students who talk with their teachers ahead of time are more likely to be able to remain silent during class.

The goal of the Day of Silence is to make schools safer for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. In a Harris Interactive study on bullying, students said two of the top three reasons students are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. Additionally, nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school.

The Day of Silence is an opportunity for students to work toward a better school climate for all students. GLSEN advises students interested in participating to discuss their intentions with their administrators and teachers long before the event. The day is most successful when schools and students work together to show their commitment to ensuring safe schools for all students. Many schools allow students' participation throughout the day. Some schools ask students to speak as they normally would during class and remain silent during breaks and at lunch. There is no single way to participate, and students are encouraged to take part in the way that is the most positive and uplifting for their school.

For the latest GLSEN findings about anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, go to www.glsen.org/research.

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