Best Buddies spreads the word to stop a slur

Anti-r-word campaign garnered more than 150 signatures

Devin Cleary and her buddy Warren at a holiday party.
Devin Cleary and her buddy Warren at a holiday party.
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More than 150 Queen’s students have pledged not to use the r-word, thanks to Best Buddies’ “Spread the Word to End the R-Word” campaign.

The r-word refers to “retard” — a slur against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

On March 4, Best Buddies set up a booth at the Biosciences Complex, where they collected pledge signatures and took photos to post on their Facebook page. This is the first year that the campaign has been run at Queen’s.

Devin Cleary, the club’s president, said the response was very positive.

“A lot of people actually knew about the campaign, which was more than we were expecting, and we had a ton of responses with people saying, ‘oh, I don’t use that anyway’, or ‘I have a sibling, cousin, friend with special needs so I know that that’s hurtful’,” said Cleary, ArtSci ’16.

“I know in the community as a whole it’s a very large issue, but here on campus we were actually positively surprised about the amount of awareness that was already here.”

Though March is the club’s awareness month, they conduct awareness campaigns throughout the year and “are constantly posting on Facebook and having training sessions for our volunteers”, Cleary said.

“We do have some social media campaigns that we do as well … and just generally telling people if we hear it, ‘hey, I know you didn’t mean to say it, but that’s not cool.’”

She said it can sometimes be awkward to ask people not to use the r-word.

“I think a lot of people use it trying to be ‘cool’, and I know a lot of times at parties and whatnot … people will say it, and I will say ‘hey, that’s not nice’ or ‘hey don’t say that’,” she said.

“People who know that I’m involved with Best Buddies will be like, ‘oh, I’m really sorry’, but sometimes the response is, ‘why do you care what I’m saying?’”

She cares, she said, because the r-word is a slur.

“People aren’t using it to be offensive. It just comes out and people don’t realize that it’s, again, the same as any other — like the n-word or the f-word, it’s a slur and it shouldn’t be used,” she said.

“I know that a lot of our buddies have said they find it very hurtful, too, because it was used as a medical term, but now it’s synonymous with stupid or any other negative word.”

Best Buddies pairs students with individuals in the Kingston community who have intellectual or developmental special needs.

“We just try and provide them with friendship that many people take for granted, whether it’s going for coffee or going bowling or seeing a movie,” Cleary said.

“It’s quite sad sometimes to hear about the stories that these individuals have, because a lot of times they’re perfectly capable of enjoying these regular activities but they don’t have anyone to do them with.”

This is because most of the people Best Buddies works with are older — including Cleary’s buddy, Warren, who’s 56 — and their family members have died or moved away.

“A lot of the people that we work with are elderly … and they’re in community living homes, and people are paid to be there with them,” she said.

“It’s a completely different experience to have someone want to be with you and want to take you out.”

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