Diane Iannacone: Advocating to End the R-Word

This week’s Campus Celebrity is Diane Iannacone, the Activities Coordinator of Best Buddies here at TCNJ. This campus organization works to integrate students with disabilities at TCNJ to other students by creating friendships like a “big brother or sister” bond. Part of Diane’s role with this organization involves creating buddy matches, organizing events and fundraisers, and coordinating meetings with other executive board members. So far this year, Diane has participated in the R Word Monologues and a Polar Bear Plunge through the Best Buddies organization.

Diane first got involved in Best Buddies during the fall of her sophomore year and she quickly fell in love with the club. She was matched with Matt Iannaccone (no relation, she noted). “After many lunches, outings, and games of Catchphrase, our friendship has grown,” she said. “Without Best Buddies, I never would have had this relationship in my life.”

Diane’s favorite part of being involved in Best Buddies is the seeing the friendships she and the other executive board worked so carefully to match up grow so nicely between pairs. Diane says, “Our goal is to foster real friendships, not to put two random people together, expecting them to hit it off.” After spending hours interviewing and playing matchmaker, “getting to see buddy pairs turn into genuine friendships” is the best part, she explained.

This year, Best Buddies instilled the R Word Monologues at TCNJ as part of Spread the Word to End the Word Week. Diane explained that after she and other e-board members reached out to Career and Community Studies students, graduates, TCNJ students, professors, and families, they were able to have 9 speakers for the week talk about their experiences with the r-word and how it has affected their lives. Best Buddies members also set up a table in the Stud during that week to encourage students to pledge to stop using the r-word.

 Diane admitted that prior to this week, she hadn’t really thought much about the word itself and how negative of an impact it could have on someone. She said that during the monologues, she felt the most powerful effect of the event:  “These weren’t just random people telling us that it’s a hurtful word, these were my friends telling stories of being called retarded and seeing their faces change when remembering these moments.” Although she said that this did make her both angry and sad, Diane left the speeches feeling encouraged and inspired by the positivity and hope of the speakers. “That’s what was awesome about the Monologues- despite the subject matter, everyone left feeling confident and lifted by the positivity in that room,” Diane said.

Diane also participated in the Polar Bear Plunge with Best Buddies for the second year of her organization’s participation. The TCNJ Best Buddies team was able to raise $2,635 this year for the New Jersey Special Olympics. This event was not only successful, but very fun as well. Diane said her favorite part of doing the plunge was the moments before when everyone’s adrenaline was pumping. After the shock of running in and then out of the freezing water, Diane felt that not only had the team had a lot of fun but that they really bonded as well.