Letter to the Editor: No Time for Silence


This letter has been written by Jessica Silver-Sharp, Faculty Library and Kolo Wamba, Professor of Physics & Astronomy at Skyline College.

At our district’s recent board meeting on Jan. 26, Skyline College student Jonathan Mariano-Smith made an unusual request during the part of the meeting allowed for public comments. When it was Jonathan’s turn to speak, he respectfully requested that everyone present at the meeting observe one full minute of silence to honor the almost six million lives lost to COVID-19 worldwide and to reflect on the devastating impact this pandemic has had on our community. He said to the board of trustees:

“We must go above and beyond to help others, not for personal gain, recognition, or an upcoming election; you just do it because it is the right thing to do…That’s what leaders do. Now, ask yourself, is this what you’re doing?… If not, why are you here? … The actions of yesterday do not outweigh the actions of the present. You will be judged by the actions you take right now by all who must follow your directives. At this point, I’d like to use the rest of my time as a moment of silence for the 5.6 million people we have lost to COVID worldwide and for the very real possibility of laying a classmate, faculty, or family member to rest due to inaction.”

But barely four seconds after Jonathan had uttered the word “inaction” and with a full 1:32 minutes still left on the official time clock, out came board president Richard Holober’s curt response: “Thank you very much. Next speaker.”

Jonathan calmly protested that he wasn’t yet done and would still like to hold a moment of silence, not just to honor the 5.6 million dead, but also the speaker before him who herself was recovering from COVID. But this was to no avail.

As Holober repeated himself, rudely cutting Jonathan off, our collective hearts began to sink. In the space of about a minute, we went from feeling embarrassed — “can the board really be this out of touch?” — to disappointed, to utterly appalled. Is silence not a comment in itself, we asked? Is time for reflection not warranted? In our history there are countless examples of leaders, activists and creative people we revere who’ve made their points in exactly this way.

The New York Times

During this unprecedented global pandemic, that’s clearly affected our students in ways more profound that can apparently be comprehended by our district’s leaders — leaders we’ve heard play down the extent of the pandemic at every turn — at the very least, we’d expect our trustees to respect and honor the student voice, quiet as it may be.

As faculty, we stand behind Jonathan Mariano-Smith for his courage in speaking out for empathy and truth. Banning silence from our students’ repertoire of expressions is not only disrespectful, it’s undemocratic. The board owes an apology not only to Jonathan but to everyone in our community whose family has been adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic.

Jessica Silver-Sharp, Faculty Library
Kolo Wamba, Professor of Physics & Astronomy