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Letter to the Editor | Thursday, April 2, 2009

Although I cannot completely agree with Mr. Petrocelli (“Political correctness overload,” April 2), I would like to thank him for recognizing the main point of the “End the R Word” campaign: all people, the mentally disabled, elderly, ill, the list goes on, are just that – people. They do not need a special name, good connotation or bad, to define them or differentiate them.

My brother is 16 years old and mentally retarded in every true sense of the world. Being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy from birth, he cannot walk, talk, sit, stand, feed or even go to the bathroom by himself. He will never drive a car, be able to walk (something we take for granted every day) down the aisle to receive his high school diploma, or do the jig at a Notre Dame football game.

When I heard of the campaign to end the “R” word, I was interested to see how the student body would respond. Although I gratefully applaud those who took this seriously, or even just signed the petition and walked away, it made me sick to hear stories of people not signing and mimicking “retards” as they laughed and strutted away. When I was standing in line to get dinner, people who had just signed the petition walked up behind me, laughing, saying, “What the hell is that [petition]? All I know is that’s retarded.”

Although hypocritical, nauseating and completely defeating the point, these things did not surprise me. No one can truly know the hurt caused by one little word unless they have experienced it first-hand, seeing kids stare at a loved one in the grocery store or bluntly walking up to you and asking “why isn’t he ‘normal’ like me?” Who said you are the normal one? I know the word “retarded” will never leave our generation’s vocabulary. All I ask is this: please think before you speak and act.

Whether its “retarded,” “gay” or any other negatively connotated word, you are calling out one group of people and making light of something that is bigger than all of us. No one chooses to have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or any other disability. My brother did not choose to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and if I could switch places with him, even for a second, so he could experience some of the wonderful people and things I have experienced (like the inspiring people I have met and things I have done here at Notre Dame), I would.

Like Mr. Petrocelli said, any and every individual is a person, and doesn’t need to be defined by a word. I think if we truly attempted to recognize this, words like retarded and their definitions would be irrelevant.

Rochelle Rieger


Pasquerilla West Hall

April 2