Campaign to Stop the 'R-word' Returns to Campus Next Week

The University of St. Thomas Special Olympics Club next week will hold its second annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” awareness campaign to stop using the “r-word” (retard or retarded).

Club members will be outside the first-floor Grill and second-floor Student Dining Room in Murray-Herrick Campus Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Monday through Friday, May 2 to 6. They will hand out “I pledged” stickers and bracelets to students, staff and faculty who pledge to not use the “r-word.”

Last year the club recorded 1,300 pledges on campus; the goal this year is 2,000.

Spread-Word-BulletinThe St. Thomas campaign is part of a national Special Olympics effort. More information is available on the Special Olympics’ website. After a little more than three years, the campaign has received more than 200,000 pledges.

The theme for this year’s campaign at St. Thomas is “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  On Wednesday, May 4, students, staff and faculty are welcome to join members of the Special Olympics Club by choosing to remain silent all day. Instead of speaking, they will distribute handouts and stickers about the campaign. (Speaking in class, while teaching, or as part of your job is acceptable.)

“They will represent those with intellectual disabilities who cannot speak up for themselves when called a retard or retarded,” explained Addison Farrell, president  of the St. Thomas club.

For more information about the campaign, the day of silence, or to volunteer, contact Farrell at

“Up to 3 percent of the world’s population has intellectual disabilities – that’s 200 million people around the world,” Farrell explained. “We’re asking every person to help eliminate the demeaning use of the r-word – a common taunt used to make fun of others and people with intellectual disabilities.

“Often unwittingly, the word is used to denote behavior that is clumsy, hapless and even hopeless.  But whether intentional or not, the word conjures up a painful stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It hurts, even if you don’t mean it that way.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are capable and enjoy sharing life experiences – listening to music, playing video games, watching the latest movies, and yes, having fun – as well as working together toward athletic excellence and mutually enriching one-to-one friendships as demonstrated through Special Olympics and Best Buddies International.

“They can attend school, work, drive cars, get married, participate in decisions that affect them, and contribute to society in many ways,” she said.

Last year, members of the Special Olympics Club produced a three-minute video about the campaign and its goals. It can be seen here.

Among those in the video were former St. Thomas students Kari Jo Johnson, then a senior from Aitkin, and John Busch, then a senior from Cottage Grove. They were featured with their brothers who have Down syndrome, Zach Johnson and Joey Busch.