Section: Opinion

We need to stop standing for the ‘r-word’

It happened at a Peirce dinner like any other. A group of my friends was sitting at our usual table sharing anecdotes and quips about our days over bowls of pasta from the fusion station. One of my friends was sharing a lively story. “That’s so retarded,” another friend responded. I cringed. But I stayed quiet.

I chose not to report the incident to a Discrimination Advisor. Perhaps I should have, and maybe in the future I will. The truth is, Kenyon students come from all over the country and world and I am hesitant to correct people who may be oblivious to the offensiveness of the r-word. My hope is to give this issue a wider platform and contribute to a positive change.

The r-word is derogatory and incredibly offensive toward people with intellectual or physical disabilities. Where I’m from, it is equivalent to any other slang word that targets a marginalized group of people. Please do not mistake me as trying to say one word is more offensive than another; this is not my intention. Any slang word that singles out a particular group is offensive and should not be thrown around loosely. I chose to write about this word in particular because I have noticed its casual use on this campus.

I am troubled by the use of the r-word partly due to my experience of attending and working at a summer camp that includes campers with intellectual disabilities. It was at camp where I learned the importance of inclusion and tolerance. We learn how to care for every camper and cater toward their needs, and that each camper has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. At my camp, the goal is to create a communal safe space. If a camper uses the r-word, he or she is threatening the safety of the community and we are trained to ask them to stop immediately.

Like my camp, my high school also strove for universal acceptance. My school was a partner with Best Buddies and Special Olympics, two organizations that pair students with intellectually or physically disabled individuals and encourage collaboration and learning. Many of my peers also pledged to help end use of the r-word. By my summer camp and high school’s standards, Kenyon’s campus is not a safe space, as long as the r-word is still in use.

I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Just the other day, someone posted on Yik Yak: “I’m amazed that there are still students on this campus who use the R word.” To the poster of this yak, I wholeheartedly agree with you, but posting anonymously will not remedy the situation. I challenge the Kenyon community to make this campus a safer space by erasing the r-word from our vocabulary; it is a small, unobtrusive action that will make a great difference. We pride ourselves on Kenyon’s political correctness, but we still have room to improve, and change begins at the individual level.

The pledge to end the r-word was created by The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for the Benefit of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. Over 500,000 individuals have signed at  r-word.org.

Maya Lownstein ’18 is a sociology and film double major from Toronto. Contact her at lowensteinm@kenyon.edu.

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