Members of the Feminist Student Organization at VCU held a rally for autism awareness in the Compass on Wednesday.
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, the FSO held signs, passed out flyers and spoke to passing students about their purpose and goals of the rally.
“Specifically we wanted to organize this rally to try to balance what are the topics surrounding autism that come specifically from organizations like Autism Speaks (who) dominate the conversation,” FSO president Claire Thompson said.
Thompson said the group wanted to address some misconceptions of the disease and question the “power structures” that influence those misconceptions.
“Specifically we wanted this to come through the Feminist Student Organization because we feel like autism, ableism, the general feeling toward people with disabilities in our culture is a feminist issue, it is an issue of oppression and privilege and it’s interconnected with other issues of oppression and privilege,” Thompson said
Elementary education major and senior Morgan Britt paticipated in the rally.
“I got an Asperger’s diagnosis when I was in high school, which is pretty late, and I did a lot of research into the activism around autism because I was really interested in activism in general and making a difference,” Britt said.
She said at first she found the group Autism Speaks and began to read blogs that criticized the organization. Britt said the group “tends to treat autism as a disease and this sort of weird terrifying epidemic and they use a lot of words like suffering from.”
“They generally put the voices of non-autistic people before autistic people,” Britt said.
Chemical engineering major and sophomore Stuart Wheeler also participated in the rally.
“I haven’t looked into it as much and I really wanted to expand my horizons,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he has been involved with many other activism groups around campus including Queer Action.
“Specifically I just don’t want [people] to get something about Autism Speaks from another group and just take it as it is and just not question anything,” Wheeler said. “Really it’s important to check all of your sources … before you give money especially, make sure it’s going to the right place.
Philanthropy chair for Alpha Xi Delta Katilyn Brooks and other members of the sorority were actually in front of the student commons to raise money for Autism Speaks on the same day.
“Today we’re just raising awareness and we’re all just trying to wear blue and if (people) don’t have blue on, we’ll give them a (blue) sticker,” Brooks said.
She said nationally the sorority supports the cause.
“We’re just here to promote awareness for autism and raise money for autism research.”