The College’s campus was just a little quieter on Wednesday, April 18, as PRISM members and allies observed the 11th annual National Day of Silence.
The National Day of Silence is a movement that seeks to speak out against the oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students. The literal silence is meant to shadow the silencing of the GLBT community caused by discrimination, prejudice and harassment.
“This means that we represent everyone who has been silenced from everything from derogatory words through violent crimes,” Beth Anderson, sophomore psychology major, said.
Anderson is the National Day of Silence chair of PRISM and has the job of organizing what is one of the largest student-led actions taken to promote safer school environments.
The demonstration was held in Brower Student Center between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. PRISM asked that students sign up for hour-long time slots, during which they would stand in the student center with duct tape gags over their mouths. Each gag displayed common insults heard in the GLBT community.
These brave students also wore stories of discriminatory crimes for passersby to stop and read. These stories were told from the viewpoint of people who have been harassed due to their sexual orientation, but were not necessarily the stories of those wearing them.
The Day of Silence was first held in 1996 at the University of Virginia with only 150 participants. Just over a decade later, the Day of Silence has become a nationwide event.
Students in secondary schools and colleges all over the country come together on this day to stand up for the rights and safety of GLBT students and their allies. The College had about 30 participants in the Day of Silence throughout Wednesday afternoon.
PRISM had a table set up in the student center during the Day of Silence, where participants could find information on the event’s origins and purpose as well as information about GLBT people and the harassment they face.
Students who attended the event were free to stop by the table and obtain this information. There also was a poster- sized pledge bearing the statement “We are not afraid” full of signatures vowing to break the silence and end discrimination aimed at the GLBT community and its allies.
Students participating in the demonstrations certainly turned the heads of those passing through the student center. Students couldn’t help but stop and look at the participants, gagged and bearing stories of hate crimes, their silence speaking volumes.
“When I first saw a guy standing outside the student center with tape over his mouth, it took me a moment to realize what was going on,” Becky Koep, junior health and exercise science major, said.
She continued, “When I found out what it was for, I thought it was a pretty brave thing. Even if they didn’t go through some of those experiences themselves, they were speaking out for those who did, and I thought that was pretty admirable.”
A Breaking the Silence party was held later Wednesday afternoon. Members of PRISM joined with others who participated in the event to bring the demonstration to an end.
“The Breaking the Silence party was an affirmation and celebration that we are not afraid to protest this GLBT silence,” Juls Bergman, sophomore secondary education/English major, said.
The Day of Silence is just one of many events held by PRISM to help bring awareness of the indignation faced by the GLBT community and its allies.
“Even though we in New Jersey are lucky to live in a relatively accepting and progressive environment, hate and ignorance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies are still major issues in the United States,” Elaine Smolen, sophomore English/deaf education major and PRISM’s vice president, said. “We hope that our silent demonstration and other events have made (College) students and faculty more prepared to fight homophobia in our community.”