Speaking Out with Silence

A collection of pins given out to wear during the National Day of Silence at Drexel.
A collection of pins given out to wear during the National Day of Silence at Drexel.

That was the intention of organizers of the Drexel Day of Silence held Friday, April 17.

The nationwide program is a student-led initiative, coordinated by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), created to ‘break the silence’ about bullying and discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) students in all levels of education. Participants stand up against this bullying by taking a pledge to remain silent throughout the day.

“The Day of Silence provides the Drexel community a moment of pause to think through how welcoming we are to our LGBTQIA students and in what ways we need to continue to improve,” said Tatiana Diaz, director of the Student Center for Inclusion and Culture, who coordinated the event.

Faculty, professional staff, students and alumni participated in the day. For some, it is a wish to start a discussion.

Millie Carvalho-Grevious, PhD, diversity and inclusion coordinator in the Office of Equality and Diversity at Drexel, holding a sign with a message for the National Day of Silence.

“As a person that has been ‘comfortable’ with my orientation for the last 25-plus years, I remind myself it’s critical to demonstrate compassion, support and acceptance,” said Leland “Rocky” Rockstraw, associate clinical professor of nursing in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, who was also a sponsor for the event. “I find it sad that there is still discrimination, legal or bullying, for any fellow human being and feel that the Day of Silence helps begin the discussion.”

For others, like Feyona La, a first-year biomedical engineering major, wanting to bring awareness to bullying in general motivated participation.

“I have been a victim of bullying myself and, no matter the context, I feel that no one should be bullied for any reason,” she said. “I have also had many close friends that have been victims of LGBTQ bullying, and I decided to take a stand for them.” 

Bullying continues to be an issue in elementary and secondary schools across the country. According to the The National School Climate Survey (2009), nearly nine out of 10 LGBTQ students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.

While experiences for LGBTQ students have improved over the years, colleges and universities are not immune to LGBTQ bullying and harassment. A 2010 college climate study by Campus Pride, a national non-profit for LGBTQ student leaders and groups, found that LGBTQ college students were more than twice as likely to be the target derogatory remarks than their heterosexual counterparts.

Drexel continues to address these issues through the development of programming to educate students, faculty and professional staff about LGBTQ issues and diversity and through the establishment of the LGBTQ Student Center in 2013. The University also celebrates Pride throughout the month of May each year.

There is no doubt the issue of LGBTQ harassment is a worthy cause to stand up against. But staying silent for an entire day can be a struggle. For those unable to remain physically silent due to the requirements of classes, co-ops or work, social media silence was a suggested alternative.

For La, the difference created by the silence was quite noticeable. “One of the hardest parts for me was the idea of being seen, but not heard,” she said. “This made me think about the people around me on campus that could feel the same way, but in a different sense. They are physically there but not able to ask for help.”

“During the day of silence, I had many questions I wished someone else would ask, so I could know the answer,” La continued. “I think that, oftentimes, students may feel this way because they are too intimidated to ask questions.”

Chantanae Singletary, a recent sociology graduate, and president/founder of Drexel's Queer People of Color student organization.

While the silence may be difficult, it can also send an important message to the Drexel community.

Dave Lanza, MS ‘12, associate director of Alumni Relations, said, “Events like the Day of Silence legitimize identities within the Drexel community. It shows current and future Dragons that these communities exist on campus and have a seat at the table. Specifically, as an alumnus and an employee, it’s just nice to see yourself represented, and that’s why the impact of these programs is vast.” 

The Day of Silence was just one of the events as part of Drexel’s Social Justice Week, sponsored by the Student Center for Inclusion and Culture. The week challenged members of the Drexel community by asking them “how do you act for justice?”

Participants were asked this question throughout Social Justice Week and responded through pictures on social media. You can view some of the responses on the LGBTQ Student Center and Student Center for Inclusion and Culture Facebook pages.

According to Diaz, one of the easiest ways faculty, professional staff and students can act for justice for the LGBTQ community is to educate themselves through trainings provided by the Student Center for Inclusion and Culture and by showing their support as an ally by attending campus LGBTQ events.

Find out more about the National Day of Silence at dayofsilence.org