My name is Samantha Hussey and I am a communicative disorders major. After graduate school, I plan to work as a speech and language pathologist with adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Through my involvement in Unified Physical Education programs and the University of Rhode Island’s chapter of Best Buddies Rhode Island, I can attest to the mutual reward and understanding reaped from inclusion and relationships like these. 

For those of you who don’t know, Best Buddies is an international organization which works to create friendships, leadership opportunities and employment for people with physical or developmental disabilities. This September, I joined members of our URI chapter for the annual Best Buddies Rhode Island walk at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. The mantra on the t-shirts this year was ‘inclusion lives here.’

Personally, being inclusive has opened doors to lifelong friendships. My buddy Paul and I met through URI’s program and have been friends for just over a year now. In the beginning, we had to work hard to understand one another. He is over twice my age and has different needs than my own, but still we have so much common ground, so many similar interests. 

When I visit him, we usually walk to the Sea Wall in Narragansett. On our walk, we discuss our days and our plans for the weekend. But when we reach the ocean, we don’t talk as much. We sit quietly, watch the waves and enjoy the fresh air. It’s therapeutic, relaxing and it never gets old. No matter what we do, I leave feeling better than when I arrived.

I have no doubt my relationship with him has made me a better person. He has taught me the value of patience, trust and enjoying the simple things in life. I encourage anyone reading my story to keep us in mind when you find yourself being judgmental, exclusive or narrow minded. Open yourself up to new kinds of people. I am willing to bet you’ll find the experience worth while. 

Diverse communities, like ours on campus, represent a range of human differences including gender orientation, sexual orientation, race, ability levels, religious beliefs and more. Inclusion promotes a sense of belonging among everyone, despite these differences. When people feel accepted and empowered everyone reaps the benefits of their contributions and knowledge. As Stuart Milk once said, “We are less when we do not include everyone.” 

As students of a very socially aware generation, I think it is important that we strive to be inclusive in our interactions with others and in our own niches on campus. Learning about cultures, groups you are not familiar with and interacting with people unlike yourself diminishes ignorance and promotes personal, as well as communal growth. 

There are numerous ways you can advocate for the equality of others and be inclusive here on campus. For instance, use inclusive and respectful language. Make it a habit to remove derogatory or harmful words from your vocabulary and be respectful of others’ preferences. And, speak up when you see or hear harmful language or exclusive behaviors. 

Next, invite people from different backgrounds to get involved in student organizations, projects and initiatives. The more perspectives you have to collaborate the better. Be sure to learn about people unlike yourself. Take a class about a different group, culture, religion or identity. 

Finally, there are many student-run organizations promoting inclusion and representation on campus, including people with IDD, women, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community to name a few. 

My hope is that we can all strive to be open, respectful and educated so that ‘inclusion lives here’ too.