March 13, 2018
The Future Educators of America (FEA) collected signatures from passing students and staff in Lawrence Hall lobby last Wednesday afternoon for a four-hour stretch to encourage pledges to use more tolerant speech and stop using the “r-word.”
The annual campaign is part of a national effort by the Special Olympics to raise awareness of offensive speech and to encourage a more widespread acceptance of people with differences.
As educators, FEA Secretary Madison Gray said this is a conversation that needs to be brought up.
“We are teaching kids that everyone is important, everybody is the same and everyone is equal,” Gray said at the event.
The campaign is part of a growing movement to end hurtful speech. The Special Olympics celebrated a milestone in this battle for acceptance and respect in 2010, when bill S.2781, more commonly known as “Rosa’s Law,” was signed into federal law by former president Barack Obama on Oct. 5 of that year.
According to the Special Olympics’ website, the legislation changed all uses of the “r-word” within federal health, education and labor policy to “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”
Living in the age of social media can make it difficult to fight derogatory language, according to FEA Vice President Emily Palma.
“Words do matter, especially in today’s society,” Palma said at the event. “People post things on social media all the time and you don’t want kids to see that kind of name calling on the Internet. You need to be conscious of the effect negative words can have on young children, especially about who they are or what their personality is.”
FEA members at Point Park wanted to make sure they would be able to hold the campaign on the same day as the national event, according to Gavin O’Marehen, a senior secondary math and special education major.
“We’ve done this every spring semester for the past seven years and this has definitely been one of our better years,” O’Marehen said at the event.
“It’s been our best year so far,” Palma added. “We’ve had an amazing turnout.”
Curiosity seemed to bring a lot of people in, wanting to learn more, according to Gray.
“Once we tell people the meaning of it, they are always like, ‘Oh my gosh yes,’” Gray said. “Everyone is always all about it.”
The group had a table set up with a large banner filled with signatures halfway through collecting. By the end of the event, there were over 200 signatures filling space on the banner, according to FEA President Dan Strickland.
“I definitely couldn’t have done it without my team,” Strickland said in an interview on Monday. “We’ve had a completely new executive board this semester and we really wanted to focus on engaging people more in our events. Spread the Word to End the Word was a great way for us to do that.”
FEA members passed out pledge stickers and pins, all in the blue and gray color theme, to participants. The Special Olympics website was a great resource for students who wanted to host an event on their own campus, according to Gray.
“The website was really helpful for us in setting up,” Gray said. “They have the shirts, buttons and posters available.”
The money raised from those items and additional donations goes back to the Special Olympics to help those living with disabilities.
FEA also had multiple committees to plan for the day including a photo committee, marketing committee and pledge committee. The organization is planning on producing a montage of the photos and videos they captured from the event to share with the Special Olympics and help continue to “spread the word to end the word.”
This is one of the largest events of the year for the club, consisting of 20-30 members. The Spread the Word event generated interest in joining the club, so membership is currently fluctuating.
FEA is already planning events for the upcoming Autism Awareness month in April including a bake sale, cupcake decorating and a “doggy kissing booth,” though nothing is set in stone yet. They are hoping to collaborate with other clubs throughout the first few weeks.
They are also looking forward to sponsoring events like a talk-back series and to build a partnership with a sister school, providing educational opportunities for FEA members.
“A lot of people actually want to do things this semester,” Strickland said. “We want to make it more worth it for members to join. My goal when I was elected was to freshen things up, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
According to O’Marehen, these events are great opportunities to prepare for a career in education.
“Schools now encourage inclusive classrooms, so you may have kids in your general education classes with special needs and we don’t want to say anything that may hurt them,” O’Marehen said. “We want them to feel as much a part of the group and the ‘norm’ that they are. Even if they are a little different they are just as special as any other student.”
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