A moment of silence for silent protests


Sydney Kinzy

Freshman Sydney Kinzy holds out a hand, with her ring finger painted pink in protest.

Sitting down during the pledge of allegiance. Pink fingernails. Students not uttering a single word for all six hours of the school day. Anything in common here? If you said no, you are far from alone in that thought: many students and teachers have never noticed the “silent” protesting done in classrooms.

So far this year, students have taken part in two silent protests; the first of these, Pink for Leelah, had protesters paint their ring fingernails pink in support of transgender rights after the suicide of Leelah Alcorn.

“I have participated in painting my nails for Leelah,” freshman Gabby Kuster said. “I think out loud [protesting] may have a little more of an effect because it gets your opinion out there, but having the silent protest helps make your point; you’re showing that you would go far for your cause.”

These protests provide an outlet for students to voice their opinions on current social issues without causing a classroom disruption.

“Adults can petition their elected leaders, donate time and funds to causes that they support. Teenagers have school. It is your social milieu and the place where you can express your views and come to understand those whose views differ from your own,” English teacher Michelle Kerpash said.

While Kerpash has never seen students silently protest, she regularly gives her students opportunities to discuss and share thoughts on current social issues in class.

“In a classroom discussion there are many views, often ones that each student has not considered,” Kerpash said. “When there is a strong sense of community in a class, I think it can be a good time and place for those difficult conversations to happen. It seems that there is already a feeling of respect and tolerance for one another’s views in those cases.”

The events in Ferguson increased support for another form of silent protest: sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. Reasons for not standing include religious ties in the pledge, an opposition to various American governmental issues, racism within the country and more.

“I regularly do not stand for the pledge of allegiance,” freshman Katie English said. “After the grand jury decided there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson and the events that came after, I decided I’m not going to support The United States until the United States supports and respects everyone.”

But several of the students who participated in the first pledge sit-down protesting Wilson’s non-indictment have found other motivations to continue sitting.

“The first thing an elementary schooler is taught is the pledge of allegiance, in elementary school they say it every day. They’re teaching children to recite their loyalty to a country and develop an almost nationalist pride in The United States, when they don’t even know what it means,” English said. “The pledge of allegiance isn’t about supporting your country, it’s about vowing to never speak out against ‘your country.’”

Apr. 17 marks a third silent protest, Day of Silence, which takes the idea of silent protesting much more literally.

“Day of Silence is a national day in the spring during which students pledge to remain silent all day to draw attention to the devastating silencing effects of bullying towards LGBTQ teens,” Kerpash said. “In our building, it is usually sponsored by GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) and has many participants. They typically have a card of some sort that explains their silence.”

But can a silent protest really be beneficial when the majority of the student body has never noticed it happening? To those who participated, the type of protest is not the important part.

“All protests are effective,” English said. “People have the right to express their disagreement with the government and society’s choices whether that be silently or out loud.”

And as classrooms open up to more discussion between peers, understanding between students follows suit.

“I think a lot of times teachers and schools tend to shy away from speaking on social issues just because I think a lot of tension can rise,” English said. “But the only way to ease that tension is if conversations on social issues become more prominent and encouraged.”