For many people, using the word ‘retarded’ in a derogatory manner doesn’t warrant a second thought. But for many more that outdated term is insulting and hurtful. Now, one group on campus is trying to stop all use of the word.
On Tuesday, September 20th, Ithaca College hosted its first Spread the Word to End the Word rally in the Campus Center. For three hours, group members spread awareness about the use of the R-word and asked students and passersby to sign a pledge to stop using the term.
Spread the Word to End the Word is an effort put on by the Special Olympics in conjunction with Best Buddies to raise awareness about the hurtful and dehumanizing effects using the word “retard(ed)” has on society.
Jessie Kanowitz, rally co-creator, says there were more than 360 people who responded to the Facebook event to say they would attend. Even if they didn’t all show up, they still got the message, she says.
“They’ve have already looked at the page and seen what we are doing,” she says. “In that sense, we have already gotten our message out. At least now it is on their minds.”
When the event wrapped up, Kanowitz estimated over 250 people had attended and most had signed the pledge.
“A lot of people have stopped by and said they already don’t say the R-word,” she says. “That is great, but we are now encouraging them to ask their friends to do the same so we can have a sort of ripple effect.”
Sarah Brenner, rally co-creator, says she experienced that same ripple effect with her friends from home.
“My friends from home and I have all stopped using the word,” Brenner says. “We all go to different schools and we have all asked our friends to stop, and it is having this huge ripple effect. Hopefully that will happen here as well.”
Many organizations tabled at the event, including the Special Olympics, the Down Syndrome Support Group and Active Minds.
“Having the Special Olympics here helped to show how involved people with disabilities are in the community and offered volunteer opportunities for college students to participate in,” Kanowitz says. “They got 18 volunteers and an entire basketball team today. They were so excited about it.”
Many students who signed the pledge also hung out in IC Square to listen to the music and enjoy the free food. One such student was senior Dylan Prill, who said she would like to join the ripple-effect effort.
“The R-word is incredibly offensive to many individuals and it is a word that is too commonly used,” she says. “It is time to put a stop to it. I know my friends and I are guilty of it from time to time and this will bring awareness to myself and others.”
Junior Lilly Miller says she thinks the rally will be successful in reminding people of how one word can hurt many people. She says she sees no reason for people not to stop.
“It is just as easy not to say it,” Miller says. “It is just as easy to say ‘don’t be stupid’ instead of ‘retarded,’ so why not just do what’s right.”
Miller says she thinks many people who signed the pledge are those who are already aware and consciously not using the word. She hopes that this message will stick in students’ minds.
Brenner says she knows it is unreasonable to think the R-word will never be used on Ithaca’s campus, but she is hoping that just being aware of the offensive nature of the word will start the trend.
“It would be great if someone who pledged today was walking behind someone who used that word and asked him or her politely not to use it,” she says. “They can have a conversation about why and hopefully continue passing on the message.”
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