Miss River Raisin Festival winner Rylee Clairday shares her initiative to end stigma around living with disabilities

Rylee Clairday wearing the winner's crown at the Miss River Raisin Festival pageant.
EMU student Rylee Clairday was crowned the winner of the Miss River Raisin Festival pageant in July.

YPSILANTI -- The Miss River Raisin Festival pageant, a preliminary event for Miss Michigan and Miss America, crowned Eastern Michigan University junior Rylee Clairday its winner on July 8. Each competitor has a social impact initiative they advocate for, and the cause that Clairday, a psychology major, is most passionate about is ending the stigma around disabilities.

“I would like to help prevent bullying and stop the idea that a person with disabilities is ‘less than or ‘incapable,’” Clairday says. Advocating against disability stigma while studying psychology has allowed her to see that not all disabilities are “visible.” That lack of visibility, Clairday says, doesn’t negate the fact that somebody might still be struggling. “The more we know about disability, the more inclusive we can be,” she says.

Clairday has had experience with disability for many years, facing mental illness herself and having a cousin with Down syndrome. She has seen firsthand the treatment people with disabilities have gotten from society at large, both in positive and negative ways. This inspired her to start volunteering in Special Education classrooms at her school, which progressed into volunteering with BLOOM Where You’re Planted, a mentor program involving outdoor and horticultural activities, arts and crafts, and trips to accessible gardens. Clairday has also volunteered with equine therapy programs.

“Each experience has built upon the last. I’m not just fighting for myself and my friends, but the people I haven’t met yet as well,” she says.

As for winning the Miss River Raisin Festival and continuing on to Miss Michigan in June 2023, Clairday hopes to perform to the best of her abilities and continue serving her community.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 15,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral, and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences, and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors, and concentrations are delivered through the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University’s website. To stay up to date on University news, activities, and announcements, visit EMU Today.

September 14, 2022

Written by:
Teddy Bigelow

Media Contact:
Darcy Gifford