“Words can hurt.”
The use of the word “retard” is proof of that, according to the Special Olympics’ “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.
According to adapted physical activity graduate student Megan Mitchell, 24, the “Spread the Word” campaign aims to put a stop to the use of the “R-word.”
“[The word ‘retarded’] has been taken out of its original context, and it’s in everyday vocabulary now,” Mitchell said. “And it shouldn’t be, because it’s used as a derogatory term. We’re trying to replace the word ‘retarded’ with something else, such as dumb or silly or whatever it might be, but [our goal is] to not use it in a derogatory sense anymore.”
Cassie Mcminn, 23, also an adapted physical activity graduate student, explained that many people don’t realize the negative or hurtful effects of the “R-word.” While it was once used as a medical diagnosis, many people now view the word as a jest or insult, something that should not apply to people with intellectual disabilities, according to Mcminn.
“A lot of times people are confused about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, because they don’t understand that it actually can be hurtful to a certain population of people,” Mcminn said.
Dr. Elizabeth Kemeny, an instructor in the Adapted Physical Activity graduate program, believes that people view the “R-word” differently than words and phrases with equally harmful connotations, such as racial slurs.
“People are always looking for ways to tell somebody else that they’re stupid or not good enough,” Kemeny said. “But I think a lot of people don’t see it yet necessarily as something hurtful. For example, some other words are definitely hate phrases, but I don’t think everyone understands that the ‘R-word’ is [a hate phrase] yet.”
Mcminn, however, holds hope for the campaign and its educational value.
“Because it is an advocacy campaign, we’re spreading awareness for people with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “We have an opportunity to grow and learn about people with intellectual disabilities — to learn about their abilities and capabilities and that they actually are people, that they have a lot of value to society. It can become a positive thing.”
Dr. Kemeny said she also sees hope for the campaign.
“We don’t expect people to completely change overnight, but at least if they’re aware and they begin to catch themselves before they say it, or there’s an awareness that it is hurtful to people, I think that’s the first step,” she said. “You raise awareness and then you change behavior.”
In an effort to get students involved with the campaign, volunteers will have booths set up throughout campus on Wednesday, March 7. The booths will be open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Students will be able to sign the “Spread the Word to End the Word” banner, pledging to put a stop to their use of the “R-word.”
Megan Mitchell is in charge of getting local school students involved with the campaign, but her focus isn’t on just the immediate Slippery Rock area.
“We’re trying to get in collaboration with Slippery Rock, Grove City, Butler, and any of the surrounding schools, but we’re trying to spread it not just to the Slippery Rock area, but all over [places like Erie and] New York, even,” Mitchell said.
As the volunteer coordinator, Mcminn is focusing her efforts on campus organizations. So far, over six different organizations have come together as advocates for the campaign, according to Mcminn.
“It’s a very special campaign to a lot of people,” she said. “We’re trying to work as a coordination committee in a way to get all of the organizations together because it is so important to all of us. It’s not just one organization running the campaign — it’s a campus-wide initiative.”
Dr. Kemeny emphasizes the student involvement in the movement.
“My role is to kind of put it out there and then step back and let students lead it,” she said.
Kemeny also acknowledges the part that the Service-Learning Mini-Grant Program has played in the campaign, allowing over 120 graduate and undergraduate students to be directly involved.
Advocates hope to gain over 1,000 signatures this year to raise awareness of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.
“The more [signatures], the better,” Mitchell said.