Despite the mainstream attention last year after the release of Bully, RBHS teacher Rachel Victor believes others still make an undue amount of fun of students with disabilities. Victor enlisted senior Abby Spaedy and Bruins United to expedite a campaign.
As it would be impossible to completely eradicate bullying, Victor is focusing on the usage of demeaning language, especially the word “retarded.” A victim of the word herself as a child, she understands how much this word can hurt. So throughout April, Victor and Spaedy are educating students about the degrading nature of such terminology.
Outreach activities meant to spread awareness about the offensive word are taking place throughout the month. This involves everything from selling T-shirts to an all-inclusive bowling tournament.
“These activities are planned just to make everyone feel welcome at school and feel as though we’re a community,” Spaedy said. “We want to be supportive of everyone.”
Too often one can hear the “R word” echo in the halls. It’s used in jest, for the most part, but it is hurtful to those who suffer from learning and cognitive disabilities. Senior Vikram Arun recognizes this disconnect, believing many students don’t think about the real meaning behind the word before using it.
“I feel like retard is one of those terms that [is] thrown out loosely without actually knowing what they mean,” Arun said. “And even those who know what it means don’t actually think about it before they say it.”
The unique aspect of Spaedy and Victor’s approach is the “I will…” pledge they want students to take while participating in their activities. Victor hopes the pledge will ensure that no student who takes it will use the word. But the pledge is not meant only to dissuade further use of the word, but to foster friendship between individuals with disabilities and the rest of RBHS.
Even then, in Victor’s mind, the program has a far-reaching goal: acceding to the equality of all people, regardless of faith, creed, race or disability. The use of the “R word” is comparable to other terms which belittle people. Victor hopes the universal implications of the program can be spread. She envisions a future where groups advocate this message throughout the school district.
“I want this to go further than Rock Bridge. It’s just going to take time and effort,” Victor said. “It’ll happen; I know it will.”
Though some may not believe the campaign will have much of an effect on the student population, Victor already saw it affect one of the students. She believes it will continue to make a difference far into the future as well.
“I talked to the individual the other day, someone who I didn’t know at all. She just came in and she said, ‘Thank you for tackling this problem.’ If I got that one person, then we did it. We did something,’” Victor said. “Maybe someone doesn’t get it now, but maybe two years down the road … they’re going to get it, and they’re going to hear someone be called that and they’re going to say, ‘Hey, that’s not OK.’ And we’ll have made a difference.”
By Raj Satpathy