April 10, 2018

Day of Silence

Last year I wrote about my day of silence on the day of, this year I want to give you plenty of advanced notice and tell you about the planning that goes into it. It is a very approachable day of action for you to organize because there's minimal planning, it has a big impact and especially in today's political climate I think it's more important than ever for students to have opportunities to use their voice (in this case by specifically not using their voice for a day).

In case you didn't click through to my other post, some background: Since 1996 when students from the University of Virginia held the first event, students (and educators!) have spent a day in silence to bring awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Now hundreds of thousand of students (and educators!) participate each year in middle schools, high schools and colleges.

The National Day of Silence will be on Friday, April 27th this year. It's organized by GLSEN and they have all sorts of resources available.

When I was running a GSA, about now was the time to get started planning. There's not much to plan but it's important to get notice out ahead of time to have a successful event. First, you need to let administration and staff know. Second, you need to let students know. Third, you need to make some photocopies. And that's it!

First: I approached administration to give them a heads up when the event is happening (especially since many years the national day fell during vacation so we had to choose a different day) and asking for their help in telling the staff. If you're worried that anyone in the school community will attempt to prevent this event from happening there are resources available. The biggest complaint I've heard is that students are participating to get out of class instead of in protest. It isn't fair to question a student's reasoning because that's no different than asking themselves to out themselves. If a student is willing to align with a movement supporting the LGBTQ community for the fringe benefit of avoiding verbal participation in class for the day then they're still supporting the LGBTQ community in the process. So to avoid those complaints, send an email to the whole staff ahead of time or announce at a faculty meeting (or both!).

Here's a sample email to faculty and staff (this was a few years in, so most staff knew what was up):
[School Name] is observing the Day of Silence on Thursday, April 13. Thanks in advance for your support of the GSA and any students who choose to participate. The cards participating students will carry say: "Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you ARE NOT hearing today." Please think about how this might affect your class ahead of time. Any student who signs up will be instructed to check in with their teachers about special arrangements the class before the event. Consider allowing students to make up something like a presentation after school but it is their responsibility to make alternative arrangements at your convenience. Teachers can participate too! It's a great experience to explore other methods of communication and sends a powerful message. If anyone isn't able to participate but wants to show support, wear a rainbow ribbon (limited number available from room 302 or at lunch) or a past year's t-shirt (we have a very limited supply in room 302). Feel free to announce that kids can sign up and get cards at lunch or in room 302 ahead of time.

Note: it looks like the participation cards are different this year. Greyscale or color.

Second: We started making daily announcements a week ahead of time and put up posters a couple weeks in advance. The school has a TV for announcements in the main lobby and they included this slide in the rotation:
I posted the sign up sheets on my classroom door a week ahead of time and students staffed a table in the cafeteria that week to sell ribbons and encourage students to sign up.
Image result for day of silence pledge form

Last year I told my students the day before:
We aren't being silent to be annoying, we're being silent to make an impact. That only works if people know what impact we're trying to make. I shared why people might participate (not everyone who is silent is gay, who knows what an ally is?), what the goal is and how important it is to be respectful (ninth graders don't always think before taunting someone with "you can't answer!"). I also shared why fighting for LGBTQ rights is still important in 2017 by briefly mentioning the news of concentration camps for gay men in Chechnya.

Third: You'll need to make a few copies of the pledge form. Ideally several teachers will have these posted throughout the school for maximum impact. Over the years we made the participation cards in different ways. Sometimes as papers to hold, sometimes hole punched paper with some yarn to make a lanyard and most recently on Avery mailing labels so students could stick it directly to their shirt. At my school of about 1,000 students we consistently had over 100 students participate. Your mileage may vary!

Provide some other ways for people to show support who choose not to remain silent. Selling ribbons is a simple option. Some years we made t-shirts. If you have the time to do pre-orders or the budget to buy them, printed shirts are nice. But other years we bought cheap white shirts, made a stencil and spray painted shirts (cardboard in between the front and back so it doesn't bleed through). Fabric markers also work. This is a fun event to do leading up to the Day of Silence. This fall we ordered wristbands and keychains that will be on sale again this month.

It is an impactful day so having a breaking the silence event for students to debrief is great. Not everyone will attend but it is nice to have a safe space available for kids who want it.

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