On Friday, April 11th 2014, Syracuse University brought local high school students together on campus to celebrate the Day of Silence. The Day of Silence is an annual day of collaborative action to protest the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. The Queering Education Research Institute (located in the School of Education on Syracuse campus) and the SU LGBT Resource Center host an event on campus each year where all local schools (staff, students, and parents) are invited to attend.
As I have been working with QuERI throughout the past year, planning this year’s Day of Silence event was my main focus for the semester. This year we centered the event on the recently passed New York State anti-bullying legislation that the QuERI team had a large part in writing, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). DASA requires all public schools in New York State (K-12) to ensure a safe and productive social and learning environment for all students. DASA was the first of it’s kind because it specifically names transgender students as protected identities. One of the major requirements of DASA is that each public school building must have a trained Dignity Act Coordinator who is responsible (and mandated) to respond to any reports of bullying or harassment within the building.
As this law is fairly recent, our goal for this year’s event was to educate students about some of the simple logistics of DASA, and encourage them to use the law to their advantage and for their own protection. Many students are unaware of the rights they have and often don’t have the tools necessary to advocate for themselves, we hoped that by giving them DASA, students (particularly LGBTQ students), would feel more comfortable speaking up when they see or experience injustice and reaching out for help when they know they need it.
Several local high schools were represented at the event and students were eager to participate. After gaining an understanding of the law, students in attendance were provided with “DASA Packets” full of materials that allowed them to create signs and artwork to advocate for equality, express their creativity, and promote the Dignity for All Students Act within their respective schools.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Imagining America, QuERI, and to take courses in the Cultural Foundations of Education program. Each has really given me the opportunity to explore the importance and concepts of education, community, power, and change – and the special relationship they all share. As someone who grew up in Syracuse, went to school here, and is now enjoying the limitless possibilities of higher education in the same city, it was great to see students leave the Day of Silence event feeling educated and empowered.