Break the Habit

This morning, like every other twenty something year old social media crazed young adult, I was scrolling through my Facebook account. While scrolling, one particular article caught my attention. It was titled “Retarded is much, much more than a word”. The author, Michael Bodley, goes on to talk about his sister Caroline who has Down syndrome and how it’s impacted his family’s life.
The ironic point that Bodley made was that, it actually hasn’t impacted his family life too much at all. While, Bodley does acknowledge that Caroline is technically “Mentally Retarded” and with this certain things are harder for her, that she for the most part lives an extremely active and normal life. Caroline is on the varsity swim team, has a boyfriend, is a devout catholic, and an average high school senior.


Caroline Bodley Swimming

However, what can make it hard for Bodley and his family, is not an extra chromosome his sister inherited, but people’s words. Bodley goes on to talk about how there has been days where Caroline has come home and sobbed for hours. When asked why, Caroline would talk about how she overheard fellow students refer to her as “The Retard”. Bodley goes on to talk about how the word “Retard” is much more than a word and how its overuse and general acceptance is a growing present day issue (Bodley, 2015).

I am personally affected by the use of the “R”, word myself. My mother used to work with intellectually and physically disabled adults and children when I was younger. As she was a single parent, and often didn’t have a babysitter, I’d come to work with her the school holidays I had off. I was very young when I started going to work with my mom; I was around seven when I started. My mom worked with a variety of people with various disabilities. Some of the disabilities were Autism, Turrets syndrome, Spina Bifida, Down ’s syndrome, Prader Willi Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and many more.

Being exposed to people with disabilities opened my mind to soo many things and made me see all kinds of people in a different light, even at a very young age. I realized just how fun-loving, intelligent, kind, and caring people with disabilities could be. But, as I progressed in school, I quickly realized there were not many people who felt the same way.

When I was in 3rd grade, I changed schools, and started at St.Mary’s in Waterford, NY. It was a small, private, Catholic school. I was struggling with learning issues myself, so it was hoped that the smaller environment would give me the one on one attention I needed to thrive. St. Mary’s did exactly that and before I knew it, I was quickly flourishing academically and socially.
This is when I met one of my childhood best friend’s, Anna. Anna was one of the kindest, smartest, and most loyal friends I ever had and we quickly became close. When we were both ten, Anna told me she was about to have a baby cousin. We were both very excited to welcome her new cousin. In 2005, Andrew was born.

At first, everything seemed to be okay with Andrew, than his family and doctors noticed that something was wrong. Before long, Andrew was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
This was tough news for Andrew’s family but they were determined to love him just as much and the same nonetheless. Anna and I spent many days playing with Andrew and taking care of him. Anna was so happy to be a big cousin. Anna and I were both only children, so she really liked feeling like a big sister. It was very easy to fall in love with Andrew. Andrew had the biggest smile and loudest laugh of any toddler anyone ever knew. But not everyone in our class had the pleasure of getting to see that side of Andrew.

It doesn’t take much to know that Middle School is a very rough time for kids emotionally and physically. Kids are harsh and cruel with little regard for one another. It was in Middle School when I noticed the prominence of the “R” word starting to be used. “What a retard” and “That’s retarded” seemed to be thrown around every other sentence. While I didn’t like this at all and was offended by it, it was not nearly as devastating to me as it was to Anna. Every time Anna was around a kid who used the “R” word, she would get an expression on her face as if someone had just taken a dagger and stabbed her directly in the heart. This was very frustrating for me and I did my best to try to encourage my peers to not use the word.

As the years went by, Anna and I grew farther apart as friends but I always did my best to try to ask about Andrew and how he was. A scary thing happened though. I hit mid High School, and I started noticing myself using the “R” word. I would of course get scolded by mother if I let it slip around her, but that was nothing compared to the guilt I felt when I caught myself using the word.
I tried to reflect on why I had let everything I learned go. I questioned how I could so easily go against my personal beliefs and values. The only thing I could think of was habit. Maybe I had not directly myself gotten into a habit of using the “R” word, but my peers and society certainly had. As I got older the word only got more and more socially accepted and abused. As a result of this social acceptance, I grew more and more disconnected from my personal experiences and beliefs.

It took a lot of maturity and growing up to realize that I myself was becoming a part of a problem that I never thought I would have. I had to work very hard to break the habit of the approval and normality of the “R” word from my vocabulary. I have come very far in my self-determination to not use the “R” word but even so, I still am far from perfect. Even now and then I slip. Luckily, articles like Michael Bodley’s remind me of the importance of advocating for the cessation of the “R” word.

I inspire you to do the same. If the “R” word is an accepted word in your vocabulary, please consider removing it. One of the greatest things about UC is that it is such a diverse community. We have African-Americans, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, Men, Women, Young, Old, Single, Married, Parents, disabled students, all making up our varied student population. This is something that makes Utica College special. We consist of a campus who accepts one another for not what we look like, but for who we are as an individual. If we use words like the “R” word, or the ever popular “N” word, or any other derogatory term, we are tearing our diverse community down little by little. So please, from now on before you go to “jokingly” use a demeaning word towards or about another, think before you speak. You never know whose mother, brother, son, sister, or friend you might be putting down. Words can be just as deadly as weapons, choose to use them wisely and with caution.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

Reference: Bodley, M. (2015, March 12). Retarded is much, much more than a word. Retrieved from

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