Think of someone you love. Someone you take care of. Someone you protect. Maybe it’s your child. Maybe it’s a little brother or sister. Maybe it’s even a parent.
Now imagine that person was born with an intellectual disability. Picture the teasing and taunting they would face. The unkindness of strangers would seem endless. Imagine the despair you would feel when someone bullied your loved one, when someone called your loved one “retarded.”
On Feb. 8 Special Olympics UVU teamed up with the Public Relations Student Society of America in their anti-bullying campaign. Their message was “Spread the Word to End the Word,” and their goal is to end the use of the word “retard” as a pejorative.
The federal government has recognized the offense of this word by passing Rosa’s Law, Bill S.2781, in 2010. Rosa’s Law removes the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from federal health, education and labor policy. The terms to replace them are “intellectually disabled” and “individual with an intellectual disability.”
What this means is the language used in the United States’ federal law is now consistent with the terminology already implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, and should be by all of us.
Some people excuse their use of this word because they are “joking” with friends. There is nothing funny about the “r-word.” Even when used jokingly, the negative connotation associated with this word ruins days, and even lives, of people who deserve respect, inclusion and dignity, the core values of the Special Olympics
Josh Goates, Special Olympics UVU president, agrees that people use the “r-word” not out of cruelty but because they have never considered the “r-word” as hate speech. “Before I was involved in Special Olympics, I was guilty of it too, but since I’ve been involved I’ve realized how hurtful it is,” Goates said.
Goates has come to recognize the hurtfulness of the “r-word,” but he was not the first to overlook it. Conservative political commentator Ann Coulter used the “r-word” on Twitter in October 2012 to describe President Obama after a presidential debate that occurred that same month.
Although Coulter refused to apologize for her less-than-sensitive use of the pejorative, it has brought the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to the forefront of recent news.
Goates’s advice to those who disagree with the exclusivity of the “r-word” is to not be afraid to reach out of your comfort zone, and find like-minded individuals who want to show kindness and tolerance to everyone.
Taking Goates’s advice, Special Olympics UVU did their part to spread the word to end the word by giving away t-shirts at the men’s basketball game on March 2 in preparation for “Spread the Word to End the Word” national day of awareness on March 6.
The PRSSA also did their part by sponsoring an anti-bullying event on campus where students and faculty pledged to end their use of the “r-word.” The anti-bullying-themed Wolverine Wednesday, held on Feb. 13, solicited 62 pledges to end the word, according to Karlie Wing, Special Olympics UVU program advisor.
“It was a lot of fun to see how many people were willing to get involved,” Wing said.
After working with Special Olympics UVU and experiencing anti-bullying events on campus Goates said, “I feel like we have a fairly inclusive campus. I feel like we have a great school. We aren’t elitists, and everyone is welcome here. I think people just don’t think about [using the ‘r-word’].”
The release of a “Spread the Word to End the Word” public service announcement, “Not Acceptable” comprises the concept:
“It is not acceptable to call me a nigger. Or to call me a spic. It is not acceptable to call me a chink. Or call me a fag. It is not acceptable to call me a kike. And it is not acceptable to call me a retard, or to call yourself or your friends retarded … The ‘r-word’ is the same as every minority slur. Treat it that way, and don’t use it.”
But really making a difference comes down to students who truly care. “The administration does a fine job including everyone on campus,” Goates said. “But it’s students who can make a difference when they get together about what they are passionate about.”
As students who care, we can all do our part by taking the pledge to end the use of the “r-word.”