Take the pledge: no more derogatory “R-word”

Patrick Larson (‘17)

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Retard. This is a word that many of us have probably heard at some point in our lives. You may have heard someone say something along the lines of  “that’s so retarded” or “don’t be such a retard” when describing a person or an action. Over the years, the R-word has become a common taunt used to make fun of others. Often times the word is used to describe behavior that is clumsy, hapless, or hopeless. What seems like harmless teasing to the people using the R-word is everything but that to the millions of people that have an intellectual disability in our world. The use of the R-word is hurtful, dehumanizing, and derogatory.   

Even in fairly recent history, the R-word used to be neutral in its use as a medical label for people with intellectual disabilities. What was once a medical term has transformed into a new meaning, one that is often synonymous with the words “idiot” or “moron.” What has not been lost over the years, though, is the direct connection that this word has to the large community of people with intellectual disabilities. This community of people is one that already faces challenges and inequalities when it comes to employment, transportation, governmental assistance, and social inclusion. The use of the R-word only serves to further perpetuate unjust stereotypes and prevent this community of people from being able to receive the respect they deserve. 

During my time at Luther, I have been fortunate to be in a community where the vast majority of people understand the effects and gravity of using the R-word. Yet, this doesn’t mean I have gone my previous four years without having heard it or that the stigma generated by using the word doesn’t exist outside of the Luther bubble. When the R-word is used, the hardest thing to do is to stand up for the marginalized community that is affected and hurt by that word choice. Multiple occasions have passed where I heard the R-word being used and failed to do anything about it. While someone differently abled may not have been present to hear the word being said, there is still no excuse for failing to address the use of a word that undermines an important group of people in our society.

Moving forward, I ask that you join us in spreading the word to end the R-word. Being willing to stop using the word yourself and start a conversation with others about the use of the R-word is crucial in creating an environment that is more accepting to people with disabilities. In the words of Oregon Special Olympics athlete Dony Knight, “When you say the “R-word” it makes people feel bad and it hurts my feelings and I don’t want to hear you guys say it. Instead, you can call me a leader, a hero, or a human being, but please don’t call me the “R-word.”

From Wednesday through Friday of this week, members from the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will be tabling in the Union from 11a.m.-1p.m. to help spread the word to end the word. Please consider stopping by our table to take the pledge and learn more about how you can help spread the word to end the R-word. Much still needs to be done before people with intellectual disabilities hold equal standing in our society. However, pledging to spread the word to end the R-word is a simple first step that will help foster inclusivity.


Patrick Larson (‘17)

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