Gay students employ silence to speak volumes
Thursday, April 10, 2003

But for the rainbow billowing in the wind on a gray spring afternoon, it would have been easy to miss Nadja Ramos.

She stood silently near the colorful nylon flag, handing fliers to passers-by and giving a thumbs-up to anyone who accepted.

Farther down the well-traveled walkway on the Ohio State University Oval, a boisterous handful of students gave away free sandwiches to pitch candidates for an upcoming student-government election.

And beyond them, another gaggle was quick to talk about its cause -- raising money to rebuild shattered homes for Palestinians.

If you missed the symbolism of the rainbow, Ramos' cause may not have been immediately apparent yesterday.

The OSU senior purposely did not speak. The goal was to make a point by being quiet -- a nontraditional way for college students, or anyone, to convey a message.

She and others at OSU joined students across the nation yesterday in a silent protest for those silenced because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Students at the University of Virginia organized the first Day of Silence on their campus in 1996 to protest discrimination.

It seems a contradiction: How can you further a position by being quiet, particularly on a college campus with so many others competing for students' attention?

"I think it makes a bigger point than if we were on a corner yelling,'' said Elizabeth Reed, an OSU sophomore and co-chairperson of Fusion, a campus group that represents the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Reed was the designated spokesperson since she was at the table most of the day and needed to communicate with those not familiar with the cause.

The students who took the fliers had little expression or reaction as they cut across the Oval on a path one student dubbed OSU's "epicenter of social and cultural debate.''

Junior Mark Borda accepted a flier from Ramos not knowing what it was about.

"At first I thought it was for the hearing impaired,'' he said after scanning the flier, among a handful of others he'd collected.

A political-science major, Borda said he liked the silent treatment.

"It's not necessarily in your face. It's a lot more effective.''

Chandra Geiser started her day silently. Normally loquacious, the OSU sophomore wrote notes when facial expressions weren't enough to express her thoughts.

"It's hard to keep quiet in class,'' wrote Geiser, a member of Fusion.

"But you smile more at people to make up for it, and it isn't too awkward.''

Copyright 2003, The Columbus Dispatch