Though I applaud Matthew Ellison for raising the issue of the use of the “r-word” in his column “Fighting for our words” (Feb. 10), and though I agree that the “r-word” is not as offensive as the use of the “n-word,” I would say this: Using it is much worse . Utter the “n-word” in a room full of Yalies, and half of them will — rightly — start shouting at you. Utter the “r-word,” and most of them will laugh. True, the “r-word” does not refer to institutionalized oppression; instead, it refers to oppressive institutionalization, which, unlike slavery, is still common today.

The use of the “r-word” is appallingly acceptable in our society — the number of people, from teachers to priests to friends to strangers in restaurants, who called my brother, who had Down Syndrome, the “r-word” to his face is shocking. And until America understands the offensiveness of this word, everybody, from your roommate to the president’s chief of staff, should be criticized even for the most casual use of the term.

While it would be nice if everyone could be Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, being who you are — white or black, gay or straight, a Yale student or a grocery clerk, is never undesirable, even if, or especially if, “who you are” includes the fact that a doctor told you that you have a mental disability.

Catherine Sheard

Feb. 11

The writer is a sophomore in Branford College.