This Saturday, Oct. 17, Extra Special People at the University of Georgia will host its annual campaign, Dress Down with the Dawgs, as a way to raise support and awareness for individuals with Down syndrome.
In partnership with the Student Government Association of the University of Alabama, ESP at UGA will hold this event while the Dawgs take on the Crimson Tide in one of the most highly anticipated football games of the season. Whether watching the game at home or in the stands, fans from both teams are encouraged to ditch their typical game day attire and dress down to show their support for those with Down syndrome.
President of ESP at UGA and junior environmental economics and management major Brenna Butler said Dress Down is held every October as a way to honor Down Syndrome Awareness Month. For supporters, this means wearing a Dress Down with the Dawgs T-shirt, button, face mask or just a regular casual outfit of their choice.
In addition to dressing down, ESP at UGA members also had the option to register for ESP’s Dress Down for the Dawgs pre-game lunch, which will take place at the ESP Headquarters in Watkinsville leading up to kickoff. This event will include socially-distanced games, SEC football streams, catered Chick-fil-A and more.
For last year’s event, ESP at UGA was able to take participants and supporters into the stadium to watch UGA’s game against the University of South Carolina and see the crowds of people all dressed down in support of their campaign, Butler said. So for this year’s celebration, ESP wanted to find an alternative way to give everyone that gameday experience in the safest way possible.
“I’m most excited for Spike Squad, Paint Line and Redcoats to come to the [pre-game event] and lead participants in some UGA cheers,” Butler said. “We wanted to provide that tailgate experience that most people don’t get to have this year and that participants don’t get to have in general.”
In an effort to follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention health and safety guidelines, ESP at UGA only offered 30 attendee and volunteer slots for the pre-game celebration, Butler said. However, those who were not able to register are still encouraged to wear their Dress Down gear and use #DressDownWithTheDawgs on social media to show their support.
Event coordinator for ESP at UGA and junior special education major Rachel Henderson said planning this year’s event came with its fair share of challenges. One of these challenges being that the risk of COVID-19 prevented many of those with Down syndrome from attending in-person events.
“This is frustrating for us because [those with Down syndrome] are the whole reason why we do this, and their voices are ultimately the most important,” Henderson said. “We want to be able to advocate for those with Down syndrome, but we also want to enable them the platform to advocate for themselves.”
Though this year’s event will look different than those of years past, Henderson said ESP has still garnered a lot of support in the forms of new members, active social media engagement, merchandise sales and partnerships with other organizations on campus.
“I hope Dress Down educates people on what exactly Down syndrome is and why people who have it are valuable in our community,” Henderson said.