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Campus strives to end the ‘R’ word

Caitlyn Kalscheur | Wednesday, March 3, 2010

“End the ‘R’ Word Day” is returning to campus for its second year to raise public awareness about the social prejudice faced by people with intellectual disabilities, now with celebrity endorsements and a national platform. 

“The point of the campaign is to educate the public, not to take away the rights of free speech,” said junior Soeren Palumbo, the campaign’s co-founder. “The word ‘retarded’ has a profound effect on people with intellectual disabilities and should be eliminated by social consensus, not by a legal means.”

With Notre Dame’s service-oriented mentality, Palumbo said he hopes Notre Dame will be a leader in the campaign.

“Notre Dame has an unprecedented service orientation toward people with disabilities, and people here want to make the world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities,” Palumbo said, “I want Notre Dame to be the jewel in the crown of this year’s events.”

The official event began last year at the Special Olympics Winter Games when Palumbo and a Yale student came up with the idea to create an event to draw media attention and educate the public on the word “retarded” and its isolating effects on those with intellectual disabilities, Palumbo said.

“We expected to get about a dozen schools involved in last year’s campaign and ended up [getting] 45 universities and even schools in other countries to participate,” Palumbo said. 
He said he anticipates even more involvement this year as service organizations such as Best Buddies International Inc. and Push America have joined the effort.

The campaign has also garnered celebrity involvement with “Scrubs” actor John C. McGinley as the main spokesperson.  Other celebrities involved with the campaign include Joe Jonas, Carl Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Alonzo Mourning.  These celebrities have shown their support by creating public service announcements in which they recite the pledge and post the videos on YouTube or other media outlets. 

This year, Palumbo said he hopes the campaign will gain national media engagements or a possible op-ed in a major publication like The New York Times to raise attention for the campaign to “Spread the Word to End the Word.” 

The goal is for people to sign pledges similar to Notre Dame’s pledge: “As a member of the Notre Dame community, I pledge to end my pejorative use of the word ‘retarded.'”

At Notre Dame, students can participate by signing one of the banners that will be located in both dining halls during lunch and dinner, as well as in LaFortune Student Center from late morning to mid-afternoon. There will also be T-shirts available for $5.

“We want to bring the event to students and to make it simple for them so it’s not something they have to work to do,” Palumbo said. “It’s something they carry with them.
“Society gets a brighter, more enriched future to see what people with intellectual disabilities can bring to the table. It’s a powerful, humbling, spiritual affirmation to be a part of that.”