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Posted: March 28, 2012 12:00 a.m.

'Words Hurt' campaign hits Oxford College

Last week, a powerful campaign called, "Words Hurt" hit Oxford College, challenging students to be aware and stop the misuse of words such as "retarded," "gay," "faggot" and "ghetto."

Freshman Sasha Palmer, who spearheaded the campus-wide campaign with the support of colleagues and Oxford's administration, said it was her college experience that gave her the idea to start this campaign.

"Coming to Oxford College was very different for me because back home in Chicago, people used different language," Palmer said. "Here, I heard the word retarded misused a lot, which is the motivation behind the movement because I have a sister who has autism so the word hits home."

Sasha's sister Daniella, is on the autistic spectrum and has epilepsy. However, Palmer says that does not keep her younger sister down.

"She is one of the happiest people you will ever meet in your life. Even though she struggles daily with things we cannot even imagine, she is still the one that can put a smile on anyone's face," Palmer said. "She's the one that can pick herself up off the floor. When she sees that you're down, she's right there next to you trying to cheer you up."

The campaign's goal is to make people realize that when they utilize phrases such as, "that's retarded," or "that's so gay," they do not mean what they are trying to describe.

"When people use, 'that's so gay,' they do not mean it as 'that's so homosexual', but as 'that's so different'," said Palmer.

The campaign included a number of events around the campus to spread awareness of the hurtful words.
Last week, more than 500 students and staff signed a pledge to stop the misuse of hurtful words. Each person who signed the pledge received a bracelet inscribed with, "Words Hurt," as a reminder.

The campaign week also included a student and staff discussion group. The group was a safe space for participants to share stories, concerns and plans of actions to conquer the struggle of hurt words.

Palmer plans to share the campaign with the whole Emory University community and throughout Covington.

"I think it's important to spread the message to the Covington community," she said. "If it's a problem at the college campus where people are educated about the way words hurt, then it's definitely a problem outside our college community," she said.

Palmer noted how the Oxford College community often volunteers with the outside community's children. That shows how important it is that they act as role models to the children.

"The children look up to us. So a powerful message like 'Words Hurt,' is something they can take into consideration," she said.

Palmer said if her vision were to truly take off, children would learn early on what words are hurtful and which they should not say.

Stephen Deaderick, an Oxford College resident life coordinator, said misusing words is often not malicious, but that's of little consequence.

"The 'Words Hurt' Campaign is not about the intent with which a person says a word or phrase, but the impact it could potentially have on others," he said.

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