My first encounter with “book banning” happened when I was still a high school student. At the time, Young Adult fiction books surged in popularity among people my age.
My mother was driving me home from school one day while I sat in the backseat with a copy of “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, which my friend had lent me. I was almost halfway through the book when my mother made an abrupt stop at the red light and glanced back at me: “You will stop reading this book right this second,” she said, “other moms I’ve spoken to have told me the book is full of sexual scenes a girl your age shouldn’t be reading about.”
Once we arrived home, my mother confiscated the book. I realized I would never learn what would become of Hazel and Gus. My immediate reaction was anger, as I believed my mother couldn’t understand the plot or significance of this book having not read it before; but mostly, I found the whole thing silly. I didn’t smoke or drink; I got good grades at school; how could reading a book for pleasure be so dangerous?
A couple of days later, my father came back from a business trip. As he reached into his suitcase he said to me: “I have something for you. I know how much you love reading but I don’t really know what kids your age read these days. The bookseller recommended this to me, I hope you like it.” My father handed me a copy of “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. Sometime in the future, I went to see the movie based on the book with my mom. No harm had been done. Despite the intended audience for the book being teens and young adults, it is one of the books that have been subject to book ban policies across the country in recent years.
On both sides of the book ban debate, there are parents and educators concerned about the future of their children. I believe that somewhere along the way in this battle, we have forgotten that the purpose of education is to nurture young minds and to expand their potential to think critically about the world around them. To give them tools and instructions and let them build something for themselves. When did the lines of such polar opposite concepts: indoctrination and education begin to blur? And why are we expecting the same walls, the same unbending rules to be able to “protect” students’ minds in this country?
Why are we so scared of words, concepts and facts solely because we don’t understand them?
Media literacy is of utter importance when it comes to “book banning” and “culture wars” across the country.
These past two years, states such as Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina have had prevalent instances of book bans. The state of Virginia is not entirely safe from these suppressive measures, as parents across public schools in the state have started making use of the Virginia Law to enforce the removal of certain books. Madyson Fitzgerald, a former copy chief of The Collegian and breaking news reporter at Stateline wrote an interesting article for Virginia Mercury on this topic, which I recommend reading.
Author Kiese Laymon visited the University of Richmond campus last semester and spoke about his book “Long Division,” which was banned in public libraries. When addressing the subject of book bans, and having appeared on the New York Times’ list of banned books, he said: “I felt like a badass.” It was truly a meaningful experience to hear him on stage, using his voice to speak words that had been silenced. We live in a world in which words on paper have become reckless weapons, instead of tools.
Oftentimes, the request for removal of these books is made out of the irrational fear that some content is deemed “inappropriate” for certain age groups. The statistics are unsettling. According to the PEN America Association, in a six-month period, 30% of the books banned have content related to race, or racism or have mentions of people of color. Similarly, 26% of these banned books include LGBTQ+-related topics. Furthermore, there is an incidence to shelter young students from “difficult” subjects. Among the books banned in the previously mentioned period, 44% portray violence and abuse, 38% discuss topics of health and wellbeing, and 30% cover death and grief.
Banning books that address these topics prevents young students from engaging in challenging conversations and being exposed to these societal issues in a safe environment. Despite efforts from parents and educators to protect students from danger, there will come a time when they will have to face challenges by themselves, and we are stripping them away from the tools they need to combat these issues.
As students at UR, we should not be strangers to the risks of book censorship. In light of this recent legal battle that the state of Virginia also finds itself in, both college students and educators have brought it upon themselves to educate and spread awareness about the consequences of “book bans.”
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Boatwright Memorial Library’s theme this first half of the semester is on book bans. On the second floor of the library, right before the entrance to the silent study section, there are caution police tapes protecting the shelves showcasing banned book titles. There is also a flyer that reads “Challenged Building of Books” and “Protect the Freedom to Read.”
Recently, discreditable sources have emerged, such as a website called “UR Woke” with content dating back to late March of this year. The website’s alleged intentions are to protect students from the dangers of indoctrination brought forth by educators and required readings at the University of Richmond. The website highlights a large body of unfounded research, consisting mostly of nitpicked facts drawn from social media images and posts, to expose other members of the campus community. The website’s main page reads: “Books like Witches, Sluts, Feminists, are literally required at the University of Richmond!”
As college students, we are encouraged to keep an open mind, to reject our own biases, and to invite open conversations about issues of utmost importance. Whether you are an educator, student, or parent who is witnessing intellectual freedom being put in danger in your community, I urge you to be informed and take respective action.
There are many ways to take action that doesn't involve going to the streets to shout in anger: attend library and school board meetings, exercise your right to vote in elections, or have conversations with members of your community to address the issue and find common ground.
In a world in which books and knowledge have been demonized, it is up to younger generations to reframe the purpose of education and literature, to let books reclaim their rightful place as tools to help navigate an ever-changing world.
We need to protect books because, in the words of the Peruvian Nobel-Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, “Literature has the important effect of creating free, independent, critical citizens who cannot be manipulated.”
Contact opinions writer Nicole Llacza Morazzani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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