“End the R-Word” campaigners at the University of South Dakota are attempting to collect more than 1,000 signatures by next March to pledge an end to the use of the word.
Last February, a small start-up team led the national campaign preparation just two weeks before the official national day, March 5.
Booths were set up in both the Muenster University Center and near the entrance to the North Complex commons. The objective was to get people to realize how offensive the “R-word” can be.
Carole South-Winter, assistant professor in the school of health sciences, said she considers herself and the others involved with the campaign advocates for ending the R-word.
“The magic really happened, I think, the day of; we expected to be there a couple hours and we couldn’t leave,” South-Winter said. “(People) would grab the pledge sheets, run to their classes, and bring them back filled.”
The campaign made a goal to have 300 students or faculty sign a pledge to end the “R-word” last March. To their surprise, they received more than double what they expected.
This year, South-Winter said the team plans to organize well in advance, to get buttons ordered and signs and pamphlets made.
She said although the health sciences classes were introduced to the campaign last year, if someone is interested in being involved, they are welcome to talk to her.
South-Winter said she had wanted to get a campaign started at USD since her daughter participated in the inaugural year, and said she sees it as a diversity issue.
“It’s easy to tease somebody or put somebody else down if they’re the other, but as soon as you put yourself in their shoes, like going, for instance, to Africa, now you’re the only white person; now you’re the other,” South-Winter said.
Senior Mariah Anderson started the campaign as part of her service-learning hours. South-Winter said while a minimum of 20 hours is required, she estimates 80 to 90 hours were spent on the campaign.
“I am going to go into occupational therapy, hopefully, and I would like to go into an area with either people with intellectual disabilities or brain injuries,” Anderson said.
Anderson said there are different things to say that are less offensive than the usage of “retard.” She said while the word was once considered politically correct, people are straying away from it.
Junior Megan Rueb said she feels a connection to the campaign as she works at Children’s Care Hospital and has seen more interest in it this school year.
She said there might have been some misunderstanding when the booths were first set up.
“When you sign the pledge, you’re not signing a legal document or something,” Rueb said. “You’re just consciously being aware you are not going to say it.”
Musheera Anis, a graduate student, got involved in 2012 when she stopped at the booth while walking through the MUC.
She said she has a 14-month-old who has Down Syndrome, so the campaign hits home for her. She said the campaign made her read up on why the term is offensive to people, especially people with disabilities.
“The old saying, ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you’ doesn’t make sense,” Anis said. “It does hurt, especially to families who have someone with any kind of disability.”
Anis said she would love to see the action now happening on campus move to the middle school and high school as she has seen the term go from a specific label to something being said between friends or said to hurt someone.