“The R-word” seminar hosted by CWRU Special Olympics chapter

Spartans for Special Olympics held the first ever “The R-Word” in the Thwing Center on April 19 with the primary purpose of getting students to think about the offensive language they use every day. The title of this event refers to derogatory use of the word “retard,” but it also advocated care and respect in all language choices.

For example, the phrase “that test raped me” is used frequently on campus to describe the level of difficulty of an exam. The speakers told attendees that victims of sexual assault can find this extremely offensive.

The R-Word seminar is a national movement that many Special Olympics clubs around the country hold each year. Junior Belle Perez, president of Case Western Reserve University’s chapter, first had the idea of bringing the event to our school.

“I thought that at CWRU it would be good to have because these words are ones that I hear all the time,” Perez said.

With an added incentive of free Qdoba, the event had a turnout of about 45 people including the executive members of the organization itself. The executive board was satisfied with this turnout as it allowed for a small group discussion yet it was large enough that the students felt comfortable sharing their experiences with one another.

The seminar began with a video explaining the R-word and its negative impact on the special needs community, followed by another video where children read mean tweets written about themselves.

“It really just showed people the universal effects that language can have on people,” said Perez.

For many attendees, the most eye-opening segment of the event was the “Walk the Line” activity. For this, students anonymously submitted note cards with words that had offended them or a loved one in the past. The cards were collected and one by one, ranging from mild terms to extreme words such as the n-word, they were read aloud. As each word was called out, students were told to step forward if they had ever felt offended by that word.

“The activity just showed people how prevalent these offensive words really are,” Public Relations Chair of Special Olympics Joey McNulty said.

The rest of the seminar was spent in small group discussions. The executive board prompted the discussions at first with prepared questions; however, as McNulty observed, they didn’t need to push them for long.

“We had the discussion questions in case they were quiet but it was nice that we didn’t have to carry the discussion along,” McNulty said. “The students took [the questions] and ran with it.”

The students went over some controversial topics such as what groups of people if any, can use what words, when people draw the line for offensive language, and when sarcasm is okay.

According to McNulty, there is no right answer for these questions. The primary goal was to make people aware of their language and to keep these ideas in the back of their minds.

The seminar closed with the students discussing things that have been said to them that made them feel empowered. While many people love being told they look pretty, words like “responsible,” “smart” and “leader” are what they remember.

“It makes you more aware of the language you use in general,” said junior Shreya Sekaran, an attendee. “You might speak differently based on who is around but regardless, you never know.”