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“Spread the Word to End the Word” Campaign Comes to Emmanuel

“Spread the Word to End the Word” is a national campaign in partnership with the Special Olympics. It is coming to Emmanuel thanks to senior Megan Moriarty, and a sponsorship from the Student Government Association. This initiative will aim to raise awareness about an issue surrounding intellectual disability. The campaign describes their mission on their website:

“The R-word is the word 'retard(ed)'. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It's offensive. It's derogatory. Our campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.  Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.  Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language.”

The campaign sprouted from the Special Olympics Winter Games about six years ago, as everyone in attendance wanted the spirit of the Games to live on throughout the year. The idea was to highlight the positive impact that people with intellectual disabilities have on their communities. Two years after the idea originated, two college students added the “Spread the Word to End the Word” component. Adding this allowed them to focus in on a specific negative characteristic of how our society behaves in regards to respecting intellectual disabilities. The campaign is more commonly seen in high schools, but is still affective amongst colleges. With 3% of the world’s population (which is around 200 million people) having some sort of intellectual disability, this issue is extremely relevant to bring into schools and communities. While it may not seem like a big deal to some users of the word, it certainly is to individuals with a intellectual disability, as well as their families. 

In a discussion with Megan Moriarty about her project, she described how (and why) she brought the campaign to Emmanuel. She originally heard about the campaign when it came to her high school, and also has a personal connection with a woman who works for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Her connection sent over a campaign package with our banner, stickers, and other needed materials. Megan has a cousin with Down Syndrome, so this issue has always been close to her heart. “I didn’t realize how offensive [the r-word] could be," she said, but when other kids her age would say it, her parents would make a point to bring to Megan’s attention why the word is not okay. She added, “I didn’t think her Down Syndrome was a big deal until I was older, because she was just my cousin. I didn’t realize she was any different.”

It was in middle school when she began to witness students making fun of the special needs kids that the issue was first introduced to her. However, this did not go away in middle school. Even today Megan notices the word being used on Emmanuel’s campus, which motivated her to bring the campaign to us. “I was getting particularly frustrated," she said. “[We] need to pick a different word”. Megan hopes that people will thinking twice about their language, after seeing the campaign efforts. 

The overall goal of the campaign is to educate people as to why they should change their language. In a society in which the r-word has been normalized for everyday use and as slang, this initiative is extremely important. On Monday, the Emmanuel community is invited to come to the JYC to sign a banner and make the pledge to eliminate the r-word from their vocabulary. The banner will then be hung in the JYC as a visual reminder and to promote awareness. Nationally, this campaign has been very successful and brought in just under 6000,000 online pledges. Let’s join the movement, and promote respect for all individuals.

Elisabeth (Liz) Staal is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA, majoring in English, Communications and minoring in Music-Theatre and Psychology. She relates to Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Knope, and is a pun enthusiast. She has a passion for service, and producing a positive influence on the world to create change. You can follow her on Twitter @estaal15
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