UNC Asheville’s Zeta Tau chapter raises their voice against Autism Speaks

Olivia Alpert
Social Media Team
[email protected]

UNC Asheville’s panhellenic community is facing backlash targeting one of their sororities,
Alpha Xi Delta, for their affiliation with Autism Speaks.
Some of the sisters of AXID have made it known that they are uncomfortable being associated
with the controversial Autism Speaks, and non-Greek life students have expressed concerns as
UNC Asheville’s AXID chapter, Zeta Tau, is taking measures to ensure that their philanthropic
work is inclusive and not associated with contentious organizations.
Autism Speaks has been open about their goal to essentially cure Autism and have continued to
push the notion that autism is bad. The word “cure” has since been removed from Autism
Speaks’ website, but this does not negate the fact that the non-profit’s original motive was to
eradicate Autism as a whole.
Autism Speaks and AXID sororities around the country have been connected through
philanthropic work since 2009. Autism Speaks encourages sisters of sororities to “share the love”
through tabling events, fundraising, and overall advocacy for autism and autism education. Just
last year the sisters of Zeta Tau raised $3,000 for Autism Speaks.
These tabling events have created important discussions around the subject matter amongst
students of UNC Asheville. While tabling, sisters of Zeta Tau have been approached and
questioned as to why they dare associate with Autism Speaks.
When asked if she was bothered by Zeta Tau x Autism Speaks, UNCA student Cailey McGinn
said, “While I wouldn’t label the individuals in AXID ableist, it’s still troubling that they are in
connection with Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks has been highly problematic for many many
Since the year they were founded in 2005, Autism Speaks has been scrutinized by the public for
blatantly taking advantage of autistic peoples and their families. A majority of the funding that
goes into Autism Speaks trickles down to employees in corporate positions, as well as funds
research toward applied behavior analysis.
ABA is essentially a version of therapy that focuses on suppressing autistic traits dealing with
personality and body language. A major part of ABA therapy revolves around the “fixing” of
stims and stimming in autistic peoples.
Stimming is the term used to refer to any movement or action that one does to stimulate
themselves, mentally or physically. Every person has their ways of stimming or their own unique
stims. With that being said, stimming is not always related to Autism, however, stimming is a
key part of the criteria for Autism diagnoses.
One member of UNCA’s Zeta Tau chapter, Carly Weaver, said, “Autism Speaks advertises
autism the same way car insurance companies advertise owning a car. Reminding people of the
worst possible scenarios and saying ‘if you stick with us, we’ll make sure that bad stuff doesn’t
happen to your family’.”
During a Zoom call with Autism Speaks employees and representatives, Zeta Tau questioned
Autism Speaks’ credibility when the subject matter of representation was brought up. The
employees on the Zoom call refuted the notion that Autism Speaks was problematic, and also
ensured the sisters of Zeta Tau that members of their team indeed were autistic themselves and
had experience in the areas of concern.
When the Zeta Tau sisters pushed for more answers about Autism Speaks’ autistic employees,
the representatives claimed HIPPA privacy rights and avoided any further discussion.
The sisters of Zeta Tau felt that this direct divergence of the conversation matter, on behalf of
Autism Speaks, only emphasized the lack of morality in their goal to normalize and publicly
speak about autism.
Former Zeta Tau sister, Savanna Lloyd, says that Zeta Tau used their philanthropic pursuits as an
attention grabber when trying to recruit possible members. There was talk amongst sisters of
instead partnering with the Asheville Autism Group, rather than Autism Speaks, but nothing
more was done about that idea.
Lloyd also made it a point to mention how sisters were essentially punished if they did not feel
comfortable attending Zeta Tau x Autism Speaks events and would be put on probation from the
Lloyd said, “The most frustrating part about AXID was advisors and the executive board
committee shutting down any attempt at progress or sisters taking things personally (like
working really hard on an event for other sisters to now show up our of principle).”
Some sisters of Zeta Tau are still trying to find ways to separate themselves from Autism Speaks
while remaining apart of Zeta Tau and the AXID sorority. Members of Zeta Tau seem hopeful
for their future philanthropic endeavors, but it is clear that changes need to be made.