Special Olympics works to end ‘r-word’
Adam Llorens | Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Members of the Notre Dame community will look to remove the derogatory term “retard” (“r-word”) from their vocabulary in a show of solidarity with the “Spread the Word to End the Word” international campaign today.
Graduate student Jenna Newcomb, a project leader of the Notre Dame Special Olympics Club, which coordinates the event, said the project is focused on changing the way people with disabilities are perceived worldwide.
“[Today] is essentially an international day of awareness,” Newcomb said. “It is a day we set aside to gauge the effect we are having across the world.”
Newcomb said the campaign has gathered about 15 million pledges globally since 2011 alumnus Soeren Palumbo started the program in 2009. She said over 1,000 high schools and 200 colleges and universities are participating.
Notre Dame gathers the most pledges of any university, Newcomb said.
“Last year, 2,701 pledges came from Notre Dame,” she said. “Our goal this year is to beat that number, a goal we have accomplished every year.”
Newcomb said the use of the word carries a negative stereotype, but students have the power to end the use of the term.
“Even when used in a joking way among friends, you still evoke all of those negative implications,” she said. “As college students, we are in a position to set an example for our parents and those who will come after us.”
Graduate student Molly Carey, also a project leader for the Notre Dame Special Olympics Club, said the campaign is concerned with the way the “r-word” is used by people in everyday language. She said Notre Dame students in particular have a responsibility to end such discrimination.
“The mission of this University is committed to justice and serving those vulnerable in our society,” Carey said. “The Notre Dame community must be committed to that message.”
Solidarity with the global community is an important aspect of the Notre Dame mission, Carey said, and the use of the “r-word” detracts from this harmony.
“When you use the ‘r-word’ with friends, it suggests people with disabilities are lesser,” Carey said. “It takes away their humanity.”
Best Buddies International , a non-profit group dedicated to improving the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helped the Special Olympics plan the campaign.
Junior Elizabeth Klinepeter, president of the Notre Dame Best Buddies chapter, said Best Buddies and the Special Olympics club collect pledges and spread awareness of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” message.
“This event is really important because the ‘r-word’ has such a derogatory meaning in our society,” Klinepeter said. “It is so commonly used by everyone in our country, around the world and here on our campus.
“Whether people realize it or not, the ‘r-word’ is a form of hate speech and threatens the dignity of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.”
Klinepeter said if students consider the detrimental effects of using the “r-word,” they will understand the impact the word has on people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
“The event promotes respect and inclusion both on campus and whenever we go out into society,” Klinepeter said.
Klinepeter said if a student hears someone use the “r-word,” the student should nicely ask the user of the word to avoid saying it and explain the word’s harm.
“It is so engrained in people and it is such a common word,” Klinepeter said. “It’s not promoting the kind of respect we want here on campus and in the wider world.”
Interested students can pledge to end the use of the “r-word” during lunch and dinner hours at LaFortune Student Center and both dining halls or online at