Rollins’ Week of Action committee brought a Day of Silence to campus on Friday April 20th. This day was part of an annual, nation-wide event put on by students that encourages peers to take a vow of silence in recognition of the silencing effect bullying and harassment has on the LGBT community. Week of Action leaders handed out t-shirts depicting a screaming mouth in the beginning of the week to campus members. As Dilsia Fernandez ’14 pointed out, it was a significant move on behalf of the t-shirts designers, Danielle Cameron ‘14, Sarah Mills ’13 and Jason Montgomery ‘14, to put the Day of Silence explanation on the backs of the t-shirts. Those who took the vow had to turn their backs to people to explain why they weren’t talking back, much like bullies and bystanders turned their backs on harassed LGBT members. This was my second year taking a day of silence and in all honesty, I didn’t adhere to it as well as I did last year. Still, it made me feel more isolated and overlooked than the first time around.
On my trek to get a quiet breakfast by myself, I encountered a wild talker. It’s only fitting that the first person I ran into that day was the post office’s outgoing Doc Gallup. As much as I love him (and who doesn’t?), I was hoping to avoid chatting that day. He spotted me by the Olin lawn, carrying a sign that advertised Rollins’ shipping services. He said hello. I waved. I hoped that would be the end of the interaction. It wasn’t. He said, “You’re a college student; where can I put this so other college people would…”. I turned around, lifted my hair and pointed to the back of my shirt. “Oh, day of silence. So I guess you can’t talk,” he commented. I nodded and waved good-bye. As I walked away, he shouted “I’ve got to look that up later!” Even though we’re silent (or as silent as we can be), Day of Silence participants manage to spread the message.
After a silent, solitary breakfast, I had to take a two hour break from my vow to attend a class at the Child Development and Student Resource Center. I resumed the vow right after and went to another psychology class. There, a very rare proposal was made; our professor offered an extension on our final project. And no one jumped on it! She asked again if we wanted the extension. A few people nodded, including my silenced self. Others stared. Maybe they didn’t trust the offer. Maybe they’re prematurely burnt out from the semester and have entered catatonic states. All I know is it was incredibly frustrating not being able to give my input. All I had to do was say one little word, “yes,” and I’d have a 2 day extension. But my eager nodding in the back row was overlooked. I had no voice in class.
As I walked to lunch, I could only nod and smile at people who acknowledged me. The overall lack of communication felt very segregating. I definitely felt like an outsider when I waited quietly in line for food and couldn’t initiate conversation. Part of the Day of Silence’s purpose is to commemorate LGBT youth that have committed suicide due to bullying and harassment, but it also recognizes the ostracizing attitudes they endured and others continue to endure. I wondered often that day if this Day of Silence provides even a taste of how these kids feel day in and day out. Because I couldn’t talk first, I was cognizant of walking around virtually unnoticed. If someone did acknowledge me first, I was forced to keep the interaction on a superficial level. Taking part in an event like this makes you understand how it is possible to be in a room full of people and feel alone.
After lunch, I went to work at OMA. Again, I could only smile and nod to people who passed by the office. If anyone entered, I had to turn my back to them so they could read the back of my shirt. It was quite interesting explaining to a delivery person that my supervisor had left for the day (Dry-erase boards are great on days like this). I spent the better part of the day texting my co-worker, Michael Barrett ‘13, who sat two feet away from me. I had to break my vow again twice to answer phone calls. A Break the Silence event was held at 6:00 pm in Dave’s Down under. Here, the Week of Action committee provided Southern barbecue while students performed original and cover songs, followed by a speak out concerning frustrations Rollins community members experience regarding LGBT issues. It was a poignant ending to Week of Action’s most interactive and demanding event; one that makes us spend a day in another’s shoes and understand the importance of speaking out.