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Spreading the word: UW-Eau Claire students want R-word to go away

The following story appeared in the March 4 edition of the Leader-Telegram and is reprinted here with permissions. Photo by Dan Reiland, Leader-Telegram staff.

By Emily Miels, Leader-Telegram staff

Members of UW-Eau Claire's Best Buddies organization want to "Spread the Word to End the Word."

The word — retarded — continues to be used inappropriately and offensively in everyday language, said John Schiel, president of the campus Best Buddies group, who was among students Wednesday in Davies Center as part of a national day of awareness. Best Buddies pairs students with community members who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"When people use the word retarded in their language, it tends to be used in a derogatory way, and it's found offensive by people with disabilities and also their allies. So we're really trying to get the word out and trying to get people to know about how to really use correct language when they speak," Schiel said.

As part of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, people were encouraged to sign a pledge and pick up a free button showing their promise to "end the word" and think about their vocabulary."

The pledge that they're signing means that they're going to eliminate the R-word from their language and also hopefully if they hear someone using it, they'll be able to tell them to pick a different word," said Annie Behnke, an officer with the Best Buddies group.

Best Buddies is an organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While the Spread the Word campaign is separate from Best Buddies, Schiel said, it's something the group supports.

"Best Buddies is an organization that recognizes the campaign and really celebrates this day as campaign day," he said.

DeLong Middle School students and staff also participated in the campaign. Best Buddies pairs visited social studies classes to share a video they made about the Spread the Word campaign and encourage classmates to sign the pledge at the school.

"It's a great opportunity for our Best Buddies pairs to work together toward a common goal," said Teri Piper Thompson, partnership coordinator at DeLong, noting almost 50 students are involved with Best Buddies at DeLong this year.

Just as with other offensive language, Behnke said, many people may use the R-word without thinking.

"This campaign is really putting it out there that this is offensive and people do get hurt by the R-word," she said.

Miels can be reached at 715-833-9214, 800-236-7077 or

Photo cutline: UW-Eau Claire Best Buddies Annie Behnke, left, and Kelsi Kruchten hand out information and buttons Wednesday in Davies Center as part of the Spread The Word To End The Word booth to fellow student Autumn Strand. The campaign's goal is to stop the use of the word "retarded."