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Speaking out with quiet voices

Last Wednesday was the quietest day of the year at 4000 schools across the country. Not because of a natural disaster or a national holiday, the silence was a result of the 500,000 students who participated in the 10th annual national Day of Silence.

The day was one of the largest student-led movements in American history, according to an April 26 press release by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

However, Wednesday wasn’t the only day last week in which student organizations chose to highlight minority issues on campus. The event coincided with a SALSA-sponsored lecture on immigration last Tuesday and Hillel’s name-reading of Holocaust victims in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Week.

ALLIES, the organization that arranged the Day of Silence on campus, understood the need for recognition of all minority groups. Their goal for this year’s event was to reach more minority groups on campus than ever before — not just those of sexual orientation.

The organization wanted also to focus on ethnic and religious minorities that emphasized the voices of their own groups not always heard on campus.

“Artistic, race, religious, or sexual — all these are different forms of silence,” said ALLIES president Vijay Jesrani, a senior in English and social and decision sciences. “Most people tolerate differences on campus, but there are still some students who feel discriminated against.”

Wednesday’s Day of Silence was the fourth at Carnegie Mellon for Jesrani, but this year ALLIES increased efforts to make the event more inclusive for all campus minorities.

“We’re all on the same level,” said Jesrani, who reported a positive response from most groups on campus.

ALLIES collaborated with a host of other organizations representing minorities on campus, including Multicultural Council, SPIRIT, SALSA, SOHO, and sexual assault advisors.

Like the Day of Silence, the immigration lecture and name-reading were also intended to transcend their typical audiences and resonate with those beyond the minorities who are directly affected.

“The immigration crisis that is going on in the U.S. is affecting more than just Latinos,” stated SALSA secretary Radiris Diaz, a junior in business administration and modern languages, via e-mail. “Tuesday night’s event should have been more of a unification than a lecture.”

The event was a presentation by guest lecturer Enrique Morones, president and founder of the Border Angels, a non-profit humanitarian group that provides aid to immigrants crossing the Mexican border. The goal of the organization is to prevent unnecessary deaths of individuals traveling between Mexico and California.

Mariana Achugar, assistant professor of Spanish and second language acquisition, agreed.

“Usually immigrants appear as less than human, represented through images or words that characterize them as a threat to the nation or different from us,” Achugar stated in an e-mail. “These images make it easier for people to distance themselves from those who are being affected by these legislations and debates.”

That distance is something that Deena Zytnick and David Rush, co-presidents of Hillel, understand well.
“While the Holocaust affected Jews, it also affected a lot of other minorities,” said Zytnick, a junior psychology major.

For several hours on Wednesday, Hillel representatives stood outside of Doherty Hall and read the names, ages, and places of death of Holocaust victims 17 years old or younger. “It puts a name to the statistics,” Zytnick said.

Still, the group was only able to read a small selection of the names. Reading the information of all child victims would take 80 days, 24 hours a day, Zytnick said.

“These children were too young to have their voices heard,” she said. She said that today’s teenagers and college students are the next generation of people responsible for continuing to commemorate the lives of the Holocaust’s youngest victims.

“That’s what the Day of Silence was doing — symbolically giving those groups voice,” said Rush, a junior in psychology and human-computer interaction.

As for the overarching goal of all the minority groups that were in the spotlight last week, “they’re all trying to stop being silent,” Rush said.

“They’re trying to get people to think about what happened in the past and change it for the future.”