Shut Up for Gay Rights, Says Dean of Students

Ashley Thorne

I just learned that today is the national Day of Silence, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Angela Batista, dean of students at the University of Southern Indiana, explained in an e-mail to the university’s faculty and staff:

The Day of Silence is the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

She expressed the administration’s support for this silent spring day and encouraged faculty and staff to promote it as well (she used the word “support” eleven times in her e-mail):

I wanted to let you know that the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Student Development and various other departments have been working to support a group of USI students that have worked for months to organize USI’s participation in this national campaign.  We hope that you too will support their efforts.

There are many ways for educators to support students on the Day of Silence.  The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has created a resource that provides background information about the Day of Silence, suggestions and tips for supporting students’ Day of Silence efforts and links to additional resources for supporting LGBT students in school. You can download The Educators’ Guide to the Day of Silence at  It is my hope that you take the time to read the guide and learn how you can help, but also I wanted to tell you about two simple ways that you can support the Day of Silence.

This “Educators’ Guide to the Day of Silence” includes documents such as “Implementing LGBT-Inclusive History-Social Science Curriculum in California” (the educational climate in that state seems especially ripe for politicization); a website called “No Name-Calling Week,” intended for use in elementary and middle schools; and “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT Pride,” which “will show you five easy ways you can celebrate LGBT Pride in your classroom.”

Dean Batista continued to suggest practical ways that faculty members can show support for LGBT rights on this Day of Silence:

During the Day of Silence, some students may be taking a vow of silence for part or all of the day and others will choose to wear buttons in support of the campaign.  One way you can support our students is by choosing to conduct lessons and activities that will allow the students to remain silent.  For example, you can screen a video related to LGBT rights or other social justice movements or engage the students in a reading or visual art activity.  Another way to support students’ Day of Silence efforts is to inform other students about the Day of Silence and its purpose.  This will help to create a safer space within the school for students’ participating in the Day of Silence.  

I hope that you will join us in supporting our students’ Day of Silence efforts and become part of an important student-led action.  I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions. The students and I thank you in advance for your support.

“Safe space” is a term often connected with LGBT people in a college setting. A few years ago I looked into the idea of “safe space” campus campaigns, many of which have special trainings for “allies” (those who are friendly toward the idea of flexible sexuality) and pink, purple, or rainbow triangle-shaped stickers that allies can put on the doors of their office or dorm room. At the time I found that over 91 colleges and universities sponsor such programs, which are not just LGBT clubs but specifically focus on the “safe” concept. I wrote that there is a false bravado in “safe spaces” and an insistence on playing the victim in an age and a place where actual victimization has never been less likely.

This idea of silent protest is not new. The duct-tape-mouthed college student is a familiar symbol of anger at censorship (See page 143 and 144 of NAS’s recent report What Does Bowdoin Teach? to read about one such rally at Bowdoin College, staged after a racial epithet was found written on a white board). Freedom of speech, of course, is a vital American right that we should all protect, and all too often colleges and universities find ways to stifle it. But are voices in favor of LGBT people and LGBT rights being stifled on campuses? I don’t see evidence that they are.

Beyond the question of whether the LGBT movement has somehow been silenced, there is the question of why a university dean of students was so actively promoting involvement in it. Would she be as vocal for the national Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity?

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