A gathering of students sporting tie-dyed T-shirts and duct-taped or painted mouths slowly grew on the UA Mall as they came to the end of their daylong vow of silence.
As they waited for the last few minutes to pass, students smiled and danced to songs played from the speakers. Some of the Arizona Pride Alliance interns who had helped organize the event but weren’t participating in the daylong silence sang along. The aroma of the pizza served for dinner filled the air.
A few minutes after 5 p.m., the “Cha Cha Slide” began playing and a crowd of about 30 people began to dance. Passersby stopped to watch, and some even joined in. A round of applause erupted at the end of the song, echoing across the Mall as participants finally spoke for the first time in seven hours, after participating in the Day of Silence.
Organized by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, Pride Alliance and LGBTQ Affairs, the Day of Silence is part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the abuse, bullying and discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people face.
LGBTQ people are at a higher risk for mental illness and being victimized, according to Martie van der Voort, a counselor at Campus Health Service Counseling and Psych Services who runs the LGBTQ and gender spectrum support group.
“The clients that I have lost to suicide have identified as LGBTQ,” van der Voort said. “It becomes a very personal passion project for me.”
Van der Voort said that having the event on a college campus was a little bit like “preaching to the choir” since students tend to be more open-minded, but it was still important to get the community involved.
Kaleb Stephens, an ecology and evolutionary biology junior and co-director of Pride Alliance, said that one of the challenges the campaign faced was being visible enough to have an impact on a large college campus.
“Being silent can disrupt the people around you a little bit, but our whole idea is to make it a little more visible,” Stephens said.
As a result, Pride Alliance decided to add color, dance and music to the silent event by tie-dying T-shirts and performing a dance flash mob in an attempt to draw more attention.
Tam Brooks had a black “X” painted on her lips. Brooks, a psychology and religious studies senior, has participated in the day of silence for five years now. Brooks said she always makes it a point to do something out in public on the Day of Silenece, like taking public transit or going to the grocery store while bearing the ‘X’ on her lips. She said the reactions she’s gotten over the years have tended to be positive, with people giving her high fives and hugs.
“The most important aspect of this for me is letting my family know who I am and what I stand for,” Brooks said.
Although Brooks has experience with the event and didn’t find spending the day in silence challenging, Meghan Bergersen said she did.
Bergersen, a psychology and political science junior and an intern with Pride Alliance, said this was her first year participating in the Day of Silence.
She recalled a moment during the day when someone had opened a door for her, and she reflexively wanted to say thank you but couldn’t. She couldn’t even answer any questions about what she was doing.
“Whenever someone said something to me and I wanted to say something back, I remembered people that don’t have that opportunity, people who are too scared to say something,” Bergersen said.