ThuyVy Duong, ’14, Biological Sciences, is the service-learning intern for the SUCCESS program at UMBC.
Twice a week, I teach a service learning course for the freshmen SUCCESS students. SUCCESS (Students United for Campus-Community Engagement for Post-Secondary Success, a partnership between UMBC and the Maryland Department of Disabilities) is the first 4-year college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities in Maryland. I have seven students in my class. Bryan loves to cook, while Cedrick loves photography and the Ravens. Evan is a remarkable artist and Mary is a Special Olympics gold medalist. DeDe dances to anything but usually to a 3LW song. Jessie’s my enthusiastic class assistant. Dan’s the quiet guy who becomes less reserved each day.
This semester, the students chose to advocate for the R-Word campaign, which asks people to stop using the term ‘retard’ as the first step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all. Slang for mental retardation, the R-Word was used by doctors, psychologists, and other professionals to describe people with significant intellectual disabilities. Today, however, the R-word is synonymous with ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid,’ and is widely used to degrade and insult those with intellectual disabilities.
How many times have you heard someone say “That is so retarded” or “Don’t be such a retard”? How many times has that someone been you? Regardless of how it is used, the term is still hurtful and only reinforces painful stereotypes that paint people with intellectual disabilities as less valued members of society.
I have never seen my students so determined and impassioned as they have been these past two weeks. They’re working relentlessly to make the R-Word Awareness Day bake sale at the Critical Social Justice Fair (March 3-4, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. in the Breezeway) a success. They all have experienced firsthand how hurtful the R-Word can be, and I think it’s so great that instead of dwelling on that pain, they’re using their experiences as motivation to teach others about the power of words. In return, they will not only learn about advocacy but also how positive change can start with anyone, from the boy who loves to cook to the girl who loves to dance. Change can start with them, and that’s a fabulous start.
In October 2010, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, removing the terms “mental retardation” and mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replacing them with “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.” It’s a significant milestone, but it is only the beginning.
What can you do to help? Get involved with Special Olympics, Best Buddies, SUCCESS or the over 200 other organizations that support the campaign. Join the 419,710 others on r-word.org who have pledged to stop using the R-Word. Talk with those who use the R-Word and let them know why it is offensive. Be an advocate yourself. If you’re at UMBC, don’t forget to visit the bake sale. Meet the students, listen to their stories, and pledge ‘to spread the word to end the word’.
When I visited r-word.org earlier today to check the pledge statistics, a post on the front page caught my eye. Titled “the r-word,” it’s written by an avid Ravens fan who just so happens to be a buddy of mine. “The r word,” Cedrick writes, “should not be used at any point of time because it is mean and hurtful to others nationwide.” I certainly agree with him. I hope you do too.
Contact the author, ThuyVy Duong, at email@example.com.