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Saints on the Hill: A Little Respect

Saints on the Hill: A Little Respect

Language Department Chair Keiko Mathewson did not sing about it or spell it out, but make no mistake—her Saints on the Hill presentation was all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It is one of Canterbury’s core values, and for Keiko, it is deeply personal.

She began talking about her “typical family,” with everyone playing sports, brother Chris going to prep school, and mom and dad working full-time. But, she added, their family dynamic was a little different than most.

Her younger brother Brent was diagnosed at age two with an intellectual disability. While it was originally thought to be autism, at a doctor’s urging he was tested for Fragile X Syndrome, which came back positive. “It is the most commonly inherited form of intellectual disability,” Keiko explained. “It presents very similar to autism—delays in development, hyperactivity, high anxiety, and learning disabilities.”

How does that relate to respect? “You might have noticed that there’s a word that I haven’t been saying,” she told students and colleagues in Maguire Auditorium. “I am going to say it now even though it is uncomfortable for me—but back then, the word ‘retard’ was used a lot. When my brother was first diagnosed, we were told that he had a mental retardation.” 

Over the years, Keiko said, the word has taken on an outdated and negative connotation to the point where, in the mid-2000s, there was a movement to eliminate its use from publication and across the board. President Barack Obama even signed it into law in 2010. “That was an important step in the right direction, but people still use the word in a derogatory and unkind way,” Keiko related. “So make sure that, when you are using certain words, you understand the meaning behind them and what they can mean to other people.”

She then told them a little more about Brent, now 35—how he stood up as Best Man at his brother’s wedding, how he is active in sports and at family outings, and especially about his biggest passion, cooking. “They told us, ‘Oh, he will never do this; he will not do that. He will never read or write.’ But it doesn’t matter,” said Keiko. “What Brent can do is make incredible desserts. This has been a major passion since he was eight years old. He has held a job for over 13 years working in food services at the private residential school he used to attend, doing all the things he really loves.”

Something else he loves dearly are his nieces. “Brent is an uncle to my two girls and my brother’s two girls,” Keiko shared. “My daughters love everything about him because he is such a loving and all-in type of person. And I just adore Brent; I think he is the greatest guy in the world.”

The challenge, Keiko explained, is that he doesn’t physically have anything that makes him look different from others—so people wonder why he gets to board an airplane early or has special accommodations at places like Disney World. And that is where respect comes in. “You never know who you could be hurting when you say something. When you use a word like the R-word, you are hurting him and hurting me” she said. “He understands what that means. He already knows that he is different, and he accepts it.”

Keiko concluded: “I leave you with this thought. I ask that you be cautious with your words, think about what you are saying, and be respectful of all people in our community and the communities beyond.”