Staff Writer: Shailyn Bacchiocchi
“What are they afraid of?”
According to a new study released by PEN America, books have been banned in 2,532 instances between July 2021 and June 2022, affecting 1,648 unique book titles.
These instances are not random or sporadic but in fact the work of many organizations pushing to censor ideas, topics, and expressions they do not agree with.
Educators like Dr. Shari Evans, the head of the English and Communication Department at UmassD, have started initiatives to better engage students with these books, and bring awareness to this ever-growing issue.
Evans enacted a Banned Books Lending Library at Umass Dartmouth, free for students and faculty to borrow a book that someone, somewhere, “doesn’t want you to read.”
“We had a little bit of money leftover from the budget last year, and I said let’s start this,” Evans says, “I asked other literature faculty and some students if they had any selections they thought would be important to add.”
There is a wide variety of books to borrow, from older selections like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, to newly banned books such as The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.
Whatever the reader may prefer, the library offers a unique perspective on the topics that are censored over time.
“One thing literature does is help readers think about how they’re implicated in history, and people don’t want to face that, so they choose to censor instead,” Evans explains.
Banned books are rising at an exponential rate. According to Pen’s Study, bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states between July 2021 and June 2022. This represents 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of almost 4 million students.
This is due to a rise of advocacy groups, particularly politically motivated groups pushing for statewide legislation against certain topics in literature.
“Right now, anything to do with sexuality, queerness, and abortion in general is a hot topic in censorship,” Evan says, “Anything to do with racism as well, that has always been a prominently censored topic.”
Advocators for banning books believe they are limiting publications that may seem “dangerous” for students to explore, and that they may present ideas that students are not ready to address. Given that the majority of banned books include these diverse topics, the excuse of danger raises an important question:
What are they afraid of?
“We have to think of it as, what do these books do for us?” Evans suggests, “Toni Morisson’s book Paradise is banned in prison. You think about that. Why is a prison so terrified of what prisoners might think about through reading? What are dangerous about these ideas?”
Given advocate groups seek to ban particularly topics of race, sexuality, and gender, the motivations become less about age-appropriateness and more about the avoidance of confronting long-lasting systematic issues.
“Part of censorship is about getting rid of discomfort. Censorship is almost an act of ‘smoothing” things out. It’s so no one has to work through, think about, or learn from a different perspective,” Evans explains.
For students, this is particularly alarming and one reason that initiatives such as the Banned Books Lending Library are so important.
“To me, this ban should be something students are angry about,” Evans says, “I think it’s just a good thing for students to become familiar with and understand why people want to keep these books from you. You might discover something,”
The process to check out a book is as simple as heading over to LARTS 341, signing out a banned book of your choosing, and returning it once done. Students can also contact Dr. Evans about books they would like to see added to the library at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PEN’s index of banned books can be found here.
For more information on the Banned Books Lending Library, visit LARTS 341 or contact Jean Selgado at email@example.com.