Thursday, April 14, 2016

What’s This “Day of Silence” About?

For many years, students in schools all over the country, including Bosque, have observed the National Day of Silence each April. This year, our students are observing it today, April 14.  In the past, I have received questions from some parents as to why we do this, so I wanted to take a moment here to explain.  When people have asked me if this event is about advancing a certain political agenda, I have said that this is not about politics; it is about our responsibility as a school to provide a safe environment for all of our children.

Studies have repeatedly shown that one of the, if not the, most at-risk groups to be bullied and harassed in high schools is LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) youth.  Consequently, these individuals are also the most at risk for self-harm and suicide.

According to a report, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health,” published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2014, “Another survey of more than 7,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students from a large Midwestern county examined the effects of school [social] climate and homophobic bullying on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBQ) youth and found that:
  • LGBQ youth were more likely than heterosexual youth to report high levels of bullying and substance use;
  • Students who were questioning their sexual orientation reported more bullying, homophobic victimization, unexcused absences from school, drug use, feelings of depression, and suicidal behaviors than either heterosexual or LGB students;
  • LGB students who did not experience homophobic teasing reported the lowest levels of depression and suicidal feelings of all student groups (heterosexual, LGB, and questioning students); and
  • All students, regardless of sexual orientation, reported the lowest levels of depression, suicidal feelings, alcohol and marijuana use, and unexcused absences from school when they were
    • In a positive school climate and
    • Not experiencing homophobic teasing.”
And according to data from YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Surveys), “LGBTQ youth are also at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.”
The good news is that schools can do something to address this problem.  We are not helpless. According to a report done at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and published in the journal Pediatrics in 2011, schools may be able to reduce the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing a supportive environment.  The summary of a study done about youth in Oregon says, “Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96 – 0.99]).”
The National Day of Silence brings attention to this issue by recalling all of those who have been silenced in the past.  This day’s message is that no children in our schools should have to hide their identity, and they should be allowed to be who they are. In addition, students are encouraged to not be bystanders in the face of bullying and harassment for any reason. This day reminds students that they have the power to create a culture of kindness, and they should use this power wisely.
That is why at Bosque, along with hundreds of other schools around the country, we follow the Day of Silence with a celebration the next day called “Night of Noise,” where students can revel in their ability to make a difference and help create an environment where everyone can feel safe and supported.  
By being quiet for an entire day, the Day of Silence reminds students of those individuals who have been silenced in the past or present, and to speak out on behalf of those people who are unable to do so.  In the words of Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller who was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps in Nazi Germany from 1937-45:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Let’s help our students learn that they can make a difference in the lives of others by speaking out and not remaining silent.