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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

Column: Be aware

The sun is shining, the ducks are quacking next to Mrak Hall and the suicidal squirrels are trying to kill you while you’re riding your bike. Praise the rotation of the Earth! Happy almost summer, fellow Aggies! We can finally say peace-out to spring quarter.

At the beginning of the quarter, I wanted to explore what it means to be cultured. Are you cultured if you only listen to Tchaikovsky and see shows at the Mondavi Center? Are you uncultured if you adore Lady Gaga’s new album and are planning on seeing Ke$ha at the Pavilion in September? Who is to decide the answer to all these burning questions?

Well, I know the answer to the last question: you. Yes, you with the eyes and the ears and the brain that’s probably fried due to cramming for finals. Let’s face it. Without us, there would be no culture for me to write a column about. I would have to stick to talking about the weather. So how about those cumulus clouds, eh?

Because we are the makers and consumers of our culture all day, every day, it’s easy to blindly accept our culture as rigid and completely acceptable. It’s normal to be fine with what is normal. But what about when normal isn’t OK? I think we can all agree that there’s at least one thing about our culture that doesn’t scream perfection.

The main issue when it comes to our cultural imperfections is usually lack of awareness. If people in the ’80s truly knew how hideous acid wash jeans were, they never would have glorified them. If you really knew what Taco Bell calls “beef,” you would probably never eat there again.

One cultural imperfection that I’ve seen in the limelight lately is the use of the word “retard(ed)” or “the r-word.” For years, people have been using this term synonymously with “idiot” or for having a “dumb blonde moment.” Usually the word is carelessly said without any intention to be hateful, but it is still a hurtful slur for people with intellectual disabilities.

My friend Allison Zema was the first one who made me aware of the r-word when we were in high school. “I don’t use the r-word because of my brother. There are many people with family members who have a chronic illness, and in my case, I have an autistic brother. Every time I hear the r-word, I picture people calling my brother that derogatory term. It just makes me angry because many people who say that word don’t understand the problems that my family has gone through for my brother,” Zema said.

College students Soeren Palumbo of the University of Notre Dame and Tim Shriver of Yale University finally got so sick of hearing the hateful and dehumanizing r-word that they decided to start spreading awareness by creating the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign with Special Olympics and Best Buddies International.

Don’t think one little word matters? The campaign boasts of close to 215,000 online pledges to stop the use of the word. Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter of “Glee” were featured in an r-word PSA that nationally aired during the season finale of “Glee” last week. It might seem silly to care about a few syllables, but when those syllables are loaded with a hateful message, it matters.

As a kid, I remember feeling hopeless when I wanted to change the way things worked around me. I was powerless when I tried to get my mom to let me eat Girl Scout cookies and ice cream for dinner. (Chocolate is totally a vegetable – it comes from a bean.)

Nowadays, things are different. As college students and as citizens of the world, we have power. We have the ability to change the way our culture functions.

Don’t like how your peers act? Fed up with hearing an upsetting slur? Done with the lack of funding that our university system gets? Start a campaign to spread awareness. Start a campaign to solve a problem. Start a campaign to change the world.

Our culture isn’t controlled by some committee of secret government agents. Our culture works, or at least should work, on a “for the people, by the people” basis. I’m sure our university is full of rabble-rousers and rebels without causes who just need some inspiration. So when something’s not working, roll up your sleeves and let’s get down to business to fix it.

This summer, CORRIE JACOBS will be working to spread awareness of how amazing Americans can be while studying abroad. Tell her how you’re making a difference in the world at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.


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