Column by Kathryn Kriss
Kriss is a sophomore BCMB major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign attempting to end the use of the R-word outside of medical terminology. A nationwide effort, it has been brought to many middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country. Though students have always been conscious of this ongoing effort, it has now formally been brought to Drake’s attention.
Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropy, which wrapped up last week, benefits Camp Sunnyside, a fully accessible camp setting that allows children with all sorts of disabilities to feel the joys of campfires, archery and other camp staples in a safe, modified setting. The men of PiKapp passionately work towards equal treatment for these individuals. For 72 hours straight, they set up a table out in Helmick Commons, riding a stationary bike while collecting donations and asking passerby’s to sign a pledge not to use the R-word. This pledge that many people took voluntarily or with persuasion made the whole campus more aware of the prevalence of the R-word. The goal of ending the R-word is noble. But it’s not something that will happen overnight.
I feel like the R-word to us is the N-word of the previous generation. People a few decades ago knew it was derogatory, but it still occasionally slipped out. Nowadays, far fewer people would casually use the N-word since we fully understand its meaning, implications and how insulting it really is. I think the R-word will go down this same path. Though it’s never been an acceptable term, it was much more common to hear it tossed around on the playground 10 years ago than it is now. We’re starting to realize that using the R-word casually or in frustration is simply not OK.
Spread the Word seems to be more about spreading awareness than permanently ending all use of the R-word. Of course, that’s the goal in mind. But Rome was not built in a day, and changing people’s perceptions and vocabularies will likely take time. The campaign recognizes that signing a pledge does not make you automatically drop a word from your vocabulary because you’re told to. Spread the Word is not about drastically altering your way of thinking. It’s simply about being more aware of what you say.
When the R-word does slip out, it’s usually an accident — rarely intentional or malicious. The point of the campaign is to make people more aware of these little accidents in an attempt to get them to decrease. The average person on the street knows what the R-word means, knows that it’s derogatory and knows that it’s not something to be sprinkled liberally on all conversations. We have already eliminated much of the intentionally hurtful uses of the R-word. If we can just get people to be more conscious of their unconscious vocabulary in moments of tension or frustration, Spread the Word will have succeeded.