A collaborative effort between student groups and the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL) is hoping to “Spread the Word to End the Word” on the River Campus this week. On Wednesday, March 4th, the student-driven coalition will ask the campus community to work towards mitigating the pejorative use of the R-word, “retard(ed),” as a starting point to facilitate acceptance and constructive dialogue featuring people-first language.
UR Special Olympics and the People First Initiative (PFI), two newly recognized student organizations, are partnering with RCCL, the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center, and Transition Opportunities at UR (TOUR) to plan a number of events this coming week focused on this year’s communal principle of inclusion.
The campaign is a national initiative sponsored by the Special Olympics organization. It recognizes the R-word as an exclusive, derogatory, and offensive term that has no place in colloquial language. While the word in question began as a clinical description, it has since come into use as a degrading pejorative for individuals with intellectual disabilities. STWTETW aims to reinforce people-first thinking that puts the person before the disability and establishes a new R-word: respect.
On Wednesday, March 4th the campaign will encourage students, staff, and faculty members to take the pledge to end the use of derisive language against the disability community. Those who participate in the campaign are invited to sign a pledge banner, which will be located on the expression wall on the third floor of Wilson Commons throughout the week, and in Hirst Lounge on Wednesday from 11AM-2PM. STWTETW Day will also feature a whiteboard photo campaign and a “Post-Secret” style submission box in Hirst Lounge that will allow members of the campus community to share their personal stories and motivations for participating.
In the days leading up to STWTETW Day, The People First Initiative, a student group that promotes inclusion of individuals with disabilities, is hosting an array of events as a part of Disability Awareness Week. On Monday, March 2nd, Teena Fitzroy of the Rochester Advocacy Center will host a talk in Morey 321 about her life with cerebral palsy. PFI has also organized a Career Panel for Disability-Related Fields, which will take place on Tuesday, March 3rd. Panelists include pediatric social worker Angela Huss of Golisano Children’s Hospital and music therapist Noa Elimelech. In addition, AmeriCorps Inclusion Specialist and Special Olympics gold medalist Cori Piels will be giving a presentation in Dewey 2110E on inclusion, disability, and the importance of respectful language on Tuesday, March 3rd at 8PM. All are welcome at these events.
While STETW Day has been an annual occurrence on campus, this is the first year that it has expanded to include such a wide variety of programming. RCCL assistant director Catherine Lewis is excited to see the traction the campaign gains with the passion and initiative of these new groups.
Lewis is excited to see all of the positive energy that drives student leaders to support this campaign. “When you want to make college an inclusive place, it’s not enough to just open the door,” says Lewis. She believes that both access and support for individuals with disability is the key to success.
March is also National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, which calls for awareness of the strengths and achievements of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In line with New York’s recent move from the outdated “handicapped” symbol to the redesigned “access” logo, movements such as this stress people-first thinking and the primacy of personhood.
“Spread the Word to End the Word” Day is aiming to show that words and symbols matter. More importantly, it aims to prove that disability is an aspect of diversity and calls for universal respect.
For more information on the STWTETW campaign, visit their site at: http://www.r-word.org/