Millikin Best Buddies help “Spread the Word to End the Word”

Emily Chudzik, News Editor

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can have a lasting mental and emotional impact.

On Wednesday, March 4, the Millikin chapter of Best Buddies set up a large banner in Shilling
Hall for students and staff to sign the pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word.

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign was created by young people with and without disabilities at the 2009 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit to try to eliminate the word “retarded” in every day speech.

The r-word is incredibly offensive to individuals with special needs, as well as their family members and friends. It’s a derogatory term towards those with an intellectual or developmental disability. It’s still hurtful when used casually, even if it is not directed toward a person with a disability.

“My brother has high functioning Asperger’s syndrome,” Sarah Kisly, senior BFA studio art major and member of Best Buddies, said. “I have always had an awareness of those with special needs. [I joined Best Buddies because] I wanted to reach out and help others who are challenged in similar ways. It’s a great way for them to live full lives and have experiences they may be denied because of their difference.”

Students and staff of various ages and backgrounds signed the pledge to remove the r-word from their colloquial vocabulary.

“Language affects behavior,” President Patrick White said. “It affects people’s behavior and response to those words.”

Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver. This organization is on numerous college campuses, middle schools and high schools, and it promotes friendship between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. It aims to successfully integrate those with special needs into schools, workplaces and communities in general. There are chapters in all 50 states and in 50 countries worldwide.

Courtney Gerk, senior nursing major and member of Best Buddies, has enjoyed being able to get to know her buddy, Angie, during her time participating in Best Buddies.

“After becoming so close with my buddy and hearing her stories of all the bullying she went through when she was younger, that it’s important we end the use of this word.” Gerk said.

Building this relationship has also allowed Gerk to learn and better understand the struggles people with disabilities deal with on a daily basis.

“[Best Buddies] really makes a difference in people’s lives,” Emilee Gerk, sophomore business marketing major, finance minor, and member of Best Buddies, said. “I signed the pledge because [that word] is offensive, and also it affects how people act and how they feel about themselves and people they know who have special needs.”

Anyone involved with Best Buddies understands the power that words entail, especially the r-word.

“I know that words have immense power and impact,” Kisly said. “Even though we say that words don’t hurt us, they really can. The mindset of the r-word can be really dangerous to the way these individuals view themselves and their capabilities. Refusing to say it is a good way to remember that they are not their disability. They can contribute to society.”

The annual national day to “end the word” is the first Wednesday in March. However, signing the pledge is available every day of the year. Visit www.r-word.org to end the use of a hateful and hurtful word. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s truly important to think before you speak and be more considerate of others.