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Think before you speak

Jenna Newcomb | Monday, March 5, 2012

When I was 13, I accidentally kicked my soccer ball over our fence and into the woods. Finding my ball surrounded by thorns, I mumbled a certain expletive. My father’s bionic hearing kicked in and from our back porch he sent me straight to my bedroom — grounded. His rationale? “Smart people don’t use dumb words.”

Teenage me thought he was being ridiculous, but more recently I came to this conclusion: Instead of “expletive,” I should have reached into the depths of my vocabulary and evoked a more accurate way to express my feelings. To my father, a “bad” word was cheap and lazy, and I was better than that.

Tomorrow, Notre Dame will join hundreds of high schools and universities in a global effort to stop the hurtful use of the word “retard(ed).” As members of the Notre Dame community, we are called to recognize all human dignity. Still, many will question the necessity of eradicating this word.

Fewer are using “retard” to refer to people with disabilities, but things like “my phone’s retarded,” still remain. Every time we use “retard” to mean “dumb” or “undesirable,” we are perpetuating a pattern of exclusion already burdening those with disabilities. Instead of the excuse, “I wasn’t saying it about anyone with a disability,” what we are really saying is, “I acknowledge that with this word comes a history of hate and unmerited stereotypes, but I continue to use it because I can’t think of anything better.”

So here is my challenge: Be better than that. If you still think using the R-word jokingly doesn’t hurt, I encourage you to ask some of Notre Dame’s extraordinary buddies, clients or athletes how they feel when they hear the word “retard.” The discrimination exemplified by the use of this word is all too real.

Tomorrow, thousands of students will join the more than 15 million who have pledged not only to change their language, but their attitude. I encourage you to take two minutes in the dining halls or LaFortune and do the same. Pledge to think before you speak.

Jenna Newcomb


Class of 2010

Mar. 5