Could you imagine a quiet middle school hallway during the day? Me neither, which is why I was intrigued to learn more about Hamilton International Middle School’s recent “Day of Silence” organized by the school’s Rainbow Justice League. The Rainbow Justice League is an after school program in place for kids to talk about LGBT issues including name-calling, bullying, and harassment. Hamilton modeled its Day of Silence after the National Day of Silence, organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Hamilton counseling intern Meghan Harris organized the school’s Day of Silence, clearing it with faculty and staff and providing students with information about the program. I asked Meghan some questions about the program:
MS: Why was the Day of Silence important for Hamilton?
MH: The Day of Silence was an important event to bring awareness to the issue that students are frequently harassed, bullied, or name-called because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. School should be a place where all students can learn free of harassment and ridicule-we want Hamilton to be a safe and welcoming school where everyone can focus on their academics and have positive relationships with their teachers and peers.
MS: How many students participated in the Day of Silence?
MH: 225 Students signed up to participate in the Day of Silence. My guess is that about that somewhere between 175 and 250 students participated in some capacity. (editor’s note: that’s a quarter of Hamilton’s student population).
MS: How did it go? Did you have students who lived up to the challenge all day?
MH: The Day of Silence was a success! Not everyone was able to be silent all day, but many tried. Students who participated said they felt supported by most of their teachers and were able to participate in alternative ways during classroom time. I know of some students who managed to stay silent 90-100% of the day. They said it was truly challenging but that it allowed them time and space to seriously think about the harassment and silencing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
MS: How did the other students (who didn’t participate) view the challenge?
MH: Some students thought it was counter-productive to be silent when the point is to break the silence. The speaking cards participants handed out helped to convey this message to people who did not understand the meaning and intentions behind the event. The speaking cards read: “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. What are you going to do to end the Silence?”
MS: How did the teachers and staff feel about it? Will they do it again?
MH: Most teachers and staff were in support of the event. Some expressed their support for the event as long as students still participated verbally in class. We asked students to participate and speak in class unless they made pre-arrangements with each of their teachers to be completely silent. We also provided teachers with an information packet and ideas for how to support participants in their classrooms. A list of student participants was emailed to all teachers so that they knew ahead of time who they could expect would be participating in their classrooms. I hope we are able to continue the event next year.
MS: What did the students do after school to break the silence?
MH: After school, the Rainbow Justice League gathered together to share experiences and celebrate the day’s successes and challenges. We invited anyone who wanted to join the group for a discussion and party. Students had a chance to share their positive and negative experiences, frustrations, and funny moments throughout the day. We ate some snacks and finished out our meeting on a joyous note.
Here’s some of the feedback Meghan received from teachers and students after the Day of Silence:
I think the Day of Silence is great. Thank you very much for organizing it with the Rainbow Justice League. I really would like to participate in the Day of Silence as a teacher, but I wasn’t sure how to run my classes without speaking. Thank you again for putting this together. It is great to see the kids taking it so seriously and participating. In my class I have had them use little white boards to communicate and participate. They are very diligent about expressing themselves that way and honoring their commitment to silence too.
It sure has been quieter around here!!:)
I was just happy to support a student run day dedicated to promoting awareness and empathy toward others. What I often tell my kids is that middle school is just as much about developing social skills as it is academic ones.
We had an OK turnout. Lots of people participate. It was difficult to get everyone to understand what it was for, but when they did it all worked out. It was nice to do something for a community of people who haven’t been acknowledged or respected in society today. It was nice to show we care.
It was hard to be quiet. I gave up 6th period.
I just want to know that teachers and peers will be open to how everyone wants to present themselves.