Spread the Word to End the Word
Students campaign to end the use of the R-word
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 14:03
Is it really that offensive to call someone “retarded” these days?
Spread the Word to End the Word, a special event that took place over the Farinon atrium on Wednesday evening, is dedicated to urging people to stop using the word “retarded,” in a derogatory and recreational way. It examined the tremendous personal and cultural significance of one simple, loaded word.
Evan Gooberman ‘13, who spearheaded the night’s activities, was enthusiastically omnipresent in his bright blue Best Buddies T-shirt.
“This is my fourth Spread the Word Event at Lafayette, and it has changed a good amount over the years,” he said. “My first year, we just had a table during lunch.”
The last two years, the event has featured professors, students, buddies, and parents who came to speak about the issue.
This year was more informal, and the event staff spread various activity stations around the atrium that were easily accessible to all passersby.
As students walked through the lobby on their way to dinner, they could stop to sign a large banner with their pledge to stop using “the r-word” or to watch YouTube videos from other Spread the Word events worldwide.
“This event is such a great example of campus togetherness,” commented Laura Dallago ‘13, as she waited for the open discussion segment of the night.
Around six o’clock, Evan called all the attendees over to a circle of chairs and opened the floor to comments regarding people’s experiences with the word “retarded” and how it affects them.
“The R-Word is so wrong to use, it’s so full of disrespect. When I hear it, it hurts, and I don’t know how to tell people,” said Best Buddies participant Ryan Beahn, of Bethlehem, Pa.
“People associate the word ‘retarded’ with ‘stupid,’ and people with intellectual disabilities aren’t stupid,” noted another attendee. “A distinction has to be made.”
“When I hear someone use the r-word, it’s like a knife to the heart,” said Program Manager of Best Buddies Pennsylvania Stephanie Shaul. “It’s just such a shame that it’s become so embedded in our vocabulary.”
The people at the discussion have friends or family members with mental disabilities who take personal offense to the word’s recreational use. However, this calls to attention the distinction between words and their cultural significance.
“Retarded” embodies such a tricky taboo in cultural slang because it connects a word that historically defines a disability with something completely separate that is being depreciated. If a student emerges from a particularity grueling test and comments to their friend, “That test was so retarded,” they are obviously not directly insulting a person with an intellectual disability, unlike if someone else pointedly calls a mentally handicapped individual a “retard.” Is it possible to make this distinction between scenarios an acceptable defense of the continued existence of the colloquial use of the word “retarded”? Not really, argues the thematic philosophy of the Spread the Word Event: the word retarded is too deeply personal that its existence should be boycotted.
During the time that I was present at the event, every single person walking by signed the banner that signified his or her pledge to stop using the “r-word.” I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone would have done the same thing if they were pledging to eradicate the word “bitch.” What makes the word “retarded” so poisonous that its existence needs to end, while “bitch” is now used more and more frequently in public forums such as radio and television? Both arguably demean a select group of individuals, but both words arguably boast other, separate connotations. What makes “retarded” worse than “bitch”?
“It’s not fair for someone to go through life feeling unequal,” said one participant in the open forum discussion. To what degree does a single word make people feel unequal, and to what degree should people be allowed to use words however they please? We live in a country where everyone has the right to free speech, but everyone also has a right to the pursuit of happiness. The existence of the word “retarded,” among others, seems to be where these two values collide.