Lowering voices to raise money

Journalists for Human Rights holds Speak Silence event to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and human rights

Students took a 25-hour vow of silence this weekend to raise money for JHR.
Students took a 25-hour vow of silence this weekend to raise money for JHR.

For 25 hours on Friday and Saturday, 37 Queen’s students took part in a campaign about human rights abuses and HIV/AIDS —but they didn’t say a thing about it.

Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), an organization devoted to increasing awareness about human rights issues and fostering a free press in developing countries, ran its third annual Speak Silence event this weekend. Participants took a vow of silence for 25 hours as a tribute to the 25 million people who have died worldwide as a result of HIV/AIDS.

The event raised more than $1,400. To some, 25 hours of silence doesn’t sound like a challenge, but JHR co-president Brad McLaughlin, ArtsSci ’08, said he learned his lesson during last year’s Speak Silence campaign. McLaughlin said he remembers going to visit a friend at Leggett and having trouble getting in the front door.

“Not being able to speak to anyone, I had to wait half an hour to get help,” McLaughlin said. “It revealed the limitations and isolation that is in not being able to speak out against problems inflicting society, inflicting you.” McLaughlin said he joined the club two years ago because he wanted to be involved with a group focused on human rights.

“JHR helps deal with improving the recognition of human rights in the media … equipping people with the knowledge to report on it themselves,” he said. Matt Valeriati, ArtsSci ’08, participated in Speak Silence for the first time this year. Before the event, he said he was a little unsure about his ability to keep quiet for 25 hours.

“I like to talk, so it’s going to be interesting” he said. “I’ll be able to do it; I’ll just have to shut myself in my room all day.” In previous years, the event was one hour less challenging.

“Usually it’s a 24-hour silence, but this year it’s 25 in commemoration of the AIDS crisis,” McLaughlin said, adding that the event has been gaining popularity on campus. The 37 students participating this weekend is a great jump from the 14 who took part in the campaign last year, McLaughlin said, adding that students don’t have to be members of JHR to take part in Speak Silence.

At the 25-hour mark, JHR members and Speak Silence participants celebrated with an after-party to raise money for the Queen’s chapter of JHR, whose objective is to release a national publication in March. JHR Co-President Courtney Kirkby, ArtsSci ’07, said the funds from the Speak Silence event will go towards printing their publication. JHR was co-founded by Queen’s alumnus Ben Peterson in 2002 and has since spread to 22 campuses across the country. Students can visit the Speak Silence website at www.speaksilence.com to make a donation to support the campaign.

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