Best Buddies aims to change stereotypes

By Kaye Burnet | News Editor

“Our goal is to change the way the world looks at these smart and capable people,” Best Buddies of Duquesne president Allison Trouten said.

Senior biology major Trouten has been a member of Duquesne’s Best Buddies chapter since she was a sophomore. Now as president, she helps to foster friendships between college students and mentally and physically disabled adults in the Pittsburgh area.

“One of the biggest challenges [people with a disability] face is a lack of social interaction,” Trouten explained. “These are people who want to interact with their peers and do fun things that other adults do.”

By partnering more than 130 disabled “buddies” with their own “peer buddy” from Duquesne, the organization allows these adults to make new friends and enjoy fun outings throughout the academic year.

“We do one or two events a month,” incoming chapter president Erin McGrady said. “We try to pick things that any college student would enjoy.”

On Sunday, the Duquesne buddies and peer buddies will enjoy a winter wonderland ball. Earlier in the semester, the group went to the circus and donned costumes for a Halloween party in the Africa Room.

Trouten said many Duquesne students join the group thinking that it will be “a lot of work and service,” and are surprised at how much fun they have. Trouten has built a firm friendship with her buddy Justin, who she enjoys spending time with.

“I look forward to it,” Trouten said. “It’s the best study break in the world.”

In addition to attending organized events, Duquesne students who apply to be peer buddies commit to talking to their buddies at least once a week and meeting with them one-on-one every month.

“We don’t think it feels like an obligation, though,” Trouten said. “These are your friends. You text them or call them like you would call any friend.”

McGrady’s buddy Drew is part of St. Anthony’s School, a learning program that provides post-secondary education for mentally disabled adults with classes that are taught at Duquesne, in the bottom of Fisher Hall. Since Drew is on campus so often, he and McGrady regularly eat lunch together in Options.

According to McGrady, it’s important for the Pittsburgh community to see the buddies “out and about” in the city.

“We want [the community] to see that these are real people,” McGrady said. “People just kind of forget about them sometimes.”

Trouten said that through increasing interactions between people with disabilities and the broader public, Best Buddies helps to reduce stereotypes and discrimination against the disabled.

“They are aware when they are treated differently, they aren’t dumb,” Trouten said.

Best Buddies is currently accepting applications for associate buddies, who are Duquesne students that are not matched with a specific buddy but participate in group organizations.