Photo by Annelise Tarnowski
Two weeks ago, the Delta Omicron chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at Drake hosted its philanthropy week, which was called “Push Week.” The brothers of PiKapp had multiple events throughout the week, which included T-shirt sales, a volleyball tournament and 50 straight hours of biking without breaks in Helmick Commons. All of the proceeds of the event went to the fraternity’s philanthropy, Push America, which is a non-profit organization that serves people with disabilities.
One of the most unique parts of Push Week was the pledge board in front of the tent. A giant piece of white, painted plywood read in red letters, “I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Throughout the week, students could stop by and sign the pledge on their way to class.
This initiative, “Spread the Word to End the Word,” was started by the Special Olympics in 2008 after a change in terminology from using the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.”
“I believe that people with intellectual disabilities and other disabilities are capable of enjoying life and everyday experiences just like everyone else,” said senior Seejo Valacheril, assistant Push chair for PiKapp. “By describing a person by using the R-word makes them feel less human. After all, they are people first.”
During “Push Week” on Drake’s campus, there was action for the initiative at the Capitol as well. On March 6, Gov. Terry Branstad signed two important documents: one was the Spread the Word to End the Word pledge, and the other was a bill calling for the elimination of the “R-word” from all state laws.
Junior Meghan Price, an elementary education major with an endorsement in special education supports the initiative.
“I think it’s great that Gov. Branstad is taking the initiative to help end the word,” Price said. “Being in such a high position, others could look up to him and what steps he is taking.”
Price is also part of the Special Olympics Iowa, an organization that has been around since 1968.
Price signed the pledge and spread the word.
“I have worn my shirt supporting the initiative around campus and talking to people about pledging,” Price said. “I have also made a Facebook status and tweeted about the pledge and encouraged people to join.”
It may seem unrealistic to expect all of those who signed the board to stick to their pledge, hence the “spread the word” part of the initiative. One of the purposes of the pledge is to make people aware of the kinds of speech they use and how that speech affects those around them.
“This initiative is about ending the word, too, and making people more aware of what the word actually does and how they can stop it,” Price said.
Ultimately, “Spread the Word to End the Word” is about treating people with disabilities the same as treating people without disabilities. This means replacing the current R-word with a new one: respect.
“This (pledge) is about a revolution of our attitudes towards a population that has been put down throughout their lifetime,” Valacheril said. “They deserve the same respect that we all get. Removing the R-word from our everyday speech is one step we can take towards showing them that respect.”
While the pledge board, made by the Pi Kappa Phi brothers, is not on display for signing on campus any longer, this effort was a part of a larger national movement to end the use of the derogatory language.
Visit www.r-word.org today to read more about the history of the initiative and join the thousands of others who have signed the pledge. Perhaps someday, the R-word will be forgotten altogether.