Walking around the College of William and Mary’s campus, it’s not uncommon to see a “woke” T-shirt or a poster for an upcoming environmental protest. Our campus has been labeled as a liberal space with students who are committed to social justice and making the world a better place. However, a community often forgotten by our activists are those with disabilities. I remember during orientation seeing the “accessible” seating in Kaplan Arena lopsided and filled with backpacks as Orientation Aides and students carelessly tossed their stuff into the area. I think about the unnecessary barriers that are imposed on students with physical disabilities each time I walk on the uneven brick paths and go up seemingly pointless one or two steps to get to dorms and academic buildings.
Through a previous lack of opportunity and a campus culture lacking respect for the group, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism and down syndrome, have not been completely accepted into our community. The College’s Best Buddies group is working to change that through a week-long event called Spread the Word.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization that promotes friendship between individuals with disabilities and students. Here on campus, you can find our club cheering on the football team at home games and having monthly events in Tidewater with an occasional impromptu dance party. In the hustle and bustle of college life, Best Buddies aims to just have fun.
Spread the Word aims to eliminate the use of the “R-word,” an offensive and outdated term to describe people with disabilities that is often used as a synonym for stupid or idiotic. Clearly, linking people with disabilities with insults is harmful and dangerous, and these individuals understand just how derogatory the term is. They make up some of our campus employees in the dining hall and mailroom, as well as students in some of your classes. Unfortunately, this term is still used at the College, so we are working to completely eliminate the “R-word” on our campus by having individuals and campus organizations pledge to not use this word any longer. Additionally, students will pledge to spread inclusion within our campus, Williamsburg and their own lives.
Why is inclusion so important? Hear it from one of our buddies with a disability, Juan Serrano: “Treat others like you want to be treated. We all have gifts to bring to the table that are important, and we should always be there for one another especially during hard times.”
In the hard times that have come with the pandemic, Best Buddies is the only social interaction some of our buddies have due to being elderly, immunocompromised or in group facilities. Making sure that this group is integrated into the community is essential to create a more inclusive and rich campus.
From Mar. 1-5, we will be having daily events in which individuals and student organizations can take part. All money raised through profit shares at Blaze, Aromas, Lokal and more will be going to the Arc of Greater Williamsburg, a day program providing services for our buddies. The event will also have daily virtual and/or in-person events that students and campus organizations can take part in. These include banner decorating, listening to buddy speakers and tie-dyeing Best Buddies shirts that students can get for free by filling out our Spread the Word bingo board. Make sure to follow @wmbestbuddies on Instagram for event times, zoom links and to sign the pledge.
Ella Schotz ’23 is a public policy major at the College. Before becoming president of Best Buddies, she spent nine years involved with the IDD community. Around campus, she is also a fellow for the Sharpe Community Scholars program and a member of Active Minds. Email Ella at email@example.com