Spread the Word to End the Word’

first_imgNotre Dame students are pledging to “Spread the Word to End the Word” today to fight insensitivity toward those with disabilities as part of “End the R-Word Day.” “Spread the Word to End the Word [is] a campaign started by Soeren Palumbo, a 2011 graduate, and Timothy Shriver,” said Maureen Connelly, co-president of Special Olympics Notre Dame. “The ultimate focus of the campaign is to spread awareness and help people realize the hurtfulness of the derogatory use of the word ‘retarded’ and to encourage them not only to pledge to not use it, but to encourage other people to not use it as well.” This year marks the fifth “End the R-Word Day.” While Palumbo instituted the day at Notre Dame, the University is just one of hundreds of colleges and elementary, middle and high schools across the country participating in the campaign. Palumbo, a 2011 graduate of Notre Dame, founded Special Olympics Notre Dame his senior year with a group of students in an effort to increase engagement between students and disabled members of the community through athletics. Palumbo, who is pursuing a JD/MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, will be speaking at tomorrow’s “Spread the Word” rally at 7 p.m. in the Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium. “I’ll be there to talk about where ‘Spread the Word’ came from, how did it start, how did it grow, what role did Notre Dame play in those two things, why is it important, where is it going [and] what is Notre Dame’s role in the future of the campaign,” Palumbo said. Students can commit to the cause by signing banners from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in both dining halls and LaFortune Student Center. Connelly said students are encouraged to not only pledge themselves to the campaign, but to solicit participation from friends. “Encourage others – truly spread the word to end the word. If you hear someone using it, it’s uncomfortable, but at the same time it’s so powerful to have someone tell you, ‘Hey, you really shouldn’t use that in that sense,’” Connelly said. “If you never really realized how offensive it was before, it kind of opens up your eyes. People are scared sometimes to speak out against it, but they don’t realize that some people truly don’t know that it’s offensive.” Palumbo said the campaign is about more than ending use of the r-word. “I think that it’s important to end the use of the r-word because language not only informs us, language transforms us,” he said. “When we use divisive words or exclusionary words or dehumanizing words, like retard or retarded, we not only build up barriers between people and isolate people and exclude people, but we ourselves become the barriers. We force others out when we define our world through exclusionary language.” Using these insensitive terms is not just hurtful to people with disabilities, Palumbo said. “At the same time, I think that it robs us without disabilities of that perspective, that dimension of the human experience that I think is very enriching and contributes to a more complete and more beautiful understanding of what it means to be human,” he said. “When we use the words retard or retarded, we embrace the attitude that it engenders and we prevent all of that.”,A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother that changed my life. I was sharing a story about an autistic boy, Liam, with whom I had spent time as a camp counselor for people with special needs. My brother commented that Liam was a boy with autism rather than an autistic boy. Liam was a person first; autism should be used to describe, not to define. Before this, altering labels seemed like trivial semantics. That night, however, I realized that language matters.  While words inform and share, they serve another function. Whether consciously or subconsciously, our words define and limit our outlook on the world, our opinion of others and our understanding of how others should be treated. By defining Liam as an autistic boy rather than a boy with autism, I was also confirming my view that Liam was somehow different from me and somehow separate from me. Wednesday, March 6, was the fifth annual Spread the Word to End the Word Day, a campaign devoted to raising awareness about the dehumanizing effects of words such as retard and retarded. As stated by Special Olympics, these derogatory slurs promote “painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.” I believe the elimination of hurtful words such as retard and retarded will help fade the differences that seem to set people with physical and intellectual disabilities apart and allow humanity to emerge as the defining characteristic of us all. I am not asking for donations of time or Domer Dollars. Rather, I ask my classmates to recognize that words dictate how we view and understand others in our community and consequently influence our actions. Whether you joined the myriad of people around the world by signing the pledge on March 6 to uphold the dignity of all people, I encourage you, as a member of Notre Dame community, to do even more. I urge you to practice what you preach by extending the spirit of inclusion and love that is intrinsic to the Notre Dame family to everyone, regardless of ability. Rachael Palumbo senior Pangborn Halllast_img

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