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Students sign pledge to end use of ‘r-word’

BY KATHERINE BAUER

A national campaign is working to end the use of a single word because they believe it disrespects the group the word represents.

National Spread the Word to End the Word Day was March 2, and Drake Best Buddies campaigned the whole week to educate students to not use the r-word.

After educating students on why Best Buddies thinks this word is wrong, they were able to sign a pledge.

“We’ve gotten way more signatures than we thought we were going to get for this,” first- year Darbee Farley said. “People are really passionate about this.”

According to r-word.org, the campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the r-word to create a more accepting communities for all people.

Farley and sophomore Rebecca Rezac were the coordinators for the campaign this year on Drake’s campus. Students completely surpassed their expectations.

“The first day, we had this huge poster that we were so excited about,” Farley said. “We filled it up the first day (with signatures). So we’ve been having other posters that we’ve had to make basically every day.”

Rezac said that it’s easy for people to get involved with this campaign.

The commitment is mostly to oneself to stop saying a word with many negative connotations.

“Using a word that has been used in the past to categorize a group of people and using it in such a negative fashion and using it to be derogatory and using it to tear people down, just that association is why it’s offensive to people,” Rezac said.

Best Buddies’ mission is to create one-on-one friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those without. It is a program often found in high schools.

On campus, tables outside Hubbell and in the Olmsted Breezeway offered students the opportunity to pledge against using the r-word.

“(The r-word) used to be the proper term for people with disabilities,” Drake Best Buddies President Lara Cox said. “But people kind of turned it into a negative thing and started using it as a substitute for stupid or dumb.”

This effort is one everyone needs to get involved with, Cox said, not just those involved with people with disabilities.

“I think as long as people can understand, then they can start being an advocate to not using it and for people with disabilities,” Cox said.

At Drake, students are paired with intellectually or mentally disabled people from group homes or agencies such as Easter Seals. Best Buddies hosts events once a month while full-time buddy students meet more with their buddy.

To some members of Best Buddies, ending the r-word is personal.

Sophomore law, politics and society and public relations double major Tess Nissen has been around a person with a mental disability her whole life: her aunt. She has been a full-time buddy for two years. She said she is personally hurt when she hears someone use the r-word.

“When I think of someone calling my aunt or my buddy that, it doesn’t make any sense to me, because they’re so much more than their disability,” Nissen said. “I think the person comes before the disability, so I prefer to say a person with a disability or people with disabilities.”

Sophomore Isaac Landers has been a part of Best Buddies for two years and is the current treasurer.

“A lot of what we do revolves around things that (my buddy) enjoys,” Landers said, “But then Ialsotrytogethimtotrynew things and go to different places. There’s some give and take.”

While it may be difficult to gauge the success of a campaign like Spread the Word to End the Word, Landers said he has noticed a difference over the years.

“I think that since when I was younger, when I was in elementary school, the use of the r-word has drastically gone down compared to now,” Landers said. “You hardly ever hear people use that word and even when people do, other people look at them like, ‘you shouldn’t use that.’ So I think the r-word campaign has definitely been doing its job.”

Best Buddies is partnering with SAB to host actress Lauren Potter, known for her role as Becky the cheerleader in “Glee”, who has Down Syndrome. Potter will host a presentation on March 23 at 7 p.m. on Pomerantz Stage in Olmsted.

“We want people to see that people with disabilities, they’re more than just that,” Nissen said. “She hasn’t let her disability disable her. And I see that, too, with my buddy. The message is that we’re not really all that different.”

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