Quinnipiac University’s Arnold Bernhard Library hosted an event titled “Banned Books, Canceling and the Freedom to Learn” on September 21 during Banned Books Week.
During the discussion, five panelists from different academic backgrounds discussed what books are restricted by administrators in schools at all levels, what literature students are exposed to, and the negative impact restricting this information can have on students.
“We talk about what it means for us to live in this environment that is hyperpolarized in terms of ideas and also in terms of our resistance to certain ideas, and how that is impacting in different facets,” said JT Torres, Director from the Center for Teaching and Learning, Assistant Professor of English and Events Speaker.
According to the New York Times, parents, school administrators and government officials in the US are questioning books faster than ever. The American Library Association received 330 book challenge reports in the fall of 2021.
As an educator, Torres said that students go to college to be exposed to new ideas and to grow and process ideas even when they are uncomfortable. But he said that “the science of learning is a balance between comfort and discomfort.”
“One thing I will say (first-year introduction to academic literacy students) is that college may have let you down if you graduate from college and still have the same beliefs and ideas that you did with they came to college,” Torres said. “Eventually, on some level, we’re here to change. Otherwise we would not have had to come here.”
Katie Bauer, Associate Director of Collections Development and Administration and Events Panelist, oversees the Arnold Bernhard Library’s book collection. She said there is a code of professional ethics that librarians follow.
“At its core, the most important thing we should do is uphold the principles of freedom of thought and freedom of reading and resist all efforts to censor library resources,” Bauer said.
Kearston Wesner, associate professor of media studies and panelist at events, said banning books could challenge the First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression.
“The first thing you need to know about the First Amendment is that we are dealing with government speech restrictions and that would extend to things like school boards or administrators censoring student speech and that becomes big questions about Raise the First Amendment,” Wesner said.
Vivian Quinlan, an elementary Master of Arts graduate student in the teaching program and event panelist, said she wrote her thesis on four banned books, why they were banned and what they had in common.
“I’ve written about how books allow people to find their own identity and place in the world, and I think books are banned because systems and power don’t want students to find them their place in the world,” Quinlan said. “Rather, they want to communicate their place in the world to the students.”
She said the ban on books from libraries “eliminates the ability” to have conversations about race, gender and sexuality.
According to the American Library Association’s Bureau of Freedom of Thought, three of the most challenged books of 2021 were “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson. They were banned for both LGBTQ content and being considered sexually explicit.
Quinlan said that as a future educator, she worries about what would happen if her students didn’t have access to certain books that “changed their thinking” because she believes diversity and representation in literature are “extremely important.” .
Mordechai Gordon, Professor and Chair of Education and panellist at events, shared his perspective on the topic based on the book he wrote, Education in a Cultural War Era: Thinking Philosophically about the Practice of Cancelling.
Patricia Rondini, a part-time lecturer who teaches English, attended the event and encouraged her students to attend the event because she said she teaches her students to look at everything from “multiple lenses.”
“Put in not only yourself and your own past, but also other possible cultures and religions… look at things from a different angle than we never would have done before, and then think about it and how it all fits together” , Rondini said.
Diana Rodriguez, an undeclared first-year major who attended the event, said she also felt that banning books was more about censorship. Additionally, she said banning books in the classroom would leave students “unfulfilled.”
“Of course we can’t know all the information in the world, but I think we should have a good idea on a range of issues in order to be able to fully go out into the world and be ready to help as many people as possible,” said Rodriguez.
At the conclusion of the event, all panellists provided concluding remarks on what the students can do and where they can go with the ideas presented.
“I would just ask people if you think that’s an important issue, if you hear about challenges and book bans, maybe in your communities, speak out and support teachers in schools who are being accused of sharing bad material to advocate for librarians and speak for authors”, farmer said.