Webster University students and faculty went up to the mic on the quad Tuesday, Sept. 23 and read many types of passages — from rape scenes to bible verses, for the Banned Books Read Out Event. The passages were all from books that have been banned or challenged in the U.S. or around the world
Webster University Library faculty teamed up with four first year seminar classes (The Course That Must Not Be Named, Propaganda and Persuasion, Censored and First-Amendment Rights Protection) to hold the event for the third year in a row. This event was part of Banned Books Week, which highlights the banning and challenging of books to be re-written in public and private schools. The event is typically held in the last week of September by the American Library Association (ALA), to celebrate the freedom to read.
While waiting for the event to start, students chose books from a pile and picked passages to read from them. Some of the challenged or banned books are the Harry Potter Series, for wizardry, “The Lorax,” which was banned by people in California for speaking against forestry companies, and “Brave New World,” for a lack of religion.
Librarians Emily Scharf and Jodie Borgerding began planning the event three weeks ago. They met with the students and instructors from the first-year seminars to plan what they wanted to do. Students volunteered to bring donuts, market the event and design the t-shirts — which read “Ban Ignorance, Not Books.”
“We pretty much provided the space, the setup, the books, and the students really took charge as far as getting the word out about it,” Borgerding said.
Borgerding read an explicit passage from “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. It was a scene where, after a bible ceremony Offred (the handmaid) is held down by Serena (the Commander’s wife), as the Commander has sex with Offred. But it neither seen as an act of love or rape since that society has taken the most fertile women to have sex with the elite men. The book has been banned and challenged in schools, mostly at the high school level, because of the sexual content and violence.
“It’s the theme of the oppression of women in the book,” she said. In the book, a religious group overthrows the U.S. government and enforces their ideology to bring up the decreasing population. In the book, the government reduced women down to property and “ultimately, baby making machines” where they’re not allowed to read or write. Even the elite women were not happy in the restrictive, male-dominated society.
“I think it’s important for people to become aware of that (theme). That way it doesn’t happen in real life,” Borgerding said.
Books like “The Handmaid’s Tale” have been banned for religious reasons, but even religious texts like the Bible have been banned.
Freshman Alex Martin, from the first-year seminar class Censored, quoted Proverbs 31:25-26 from the Bible, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.”
She said that proverb is encouraging and feels that a lot of women need to hear that verse. Since she goes to a liberal arts school, she has found it challenging to address the “anti-religion” remarks made in classes by students.
“My mom always taught me that there’s no other man I need in my life but God,” Martin said.
She also did not know about Banned Books Week until coming to Webster.
“I think it’s important to be aware of stuff like that going on and that our country has a lot of freedom and leeway, ” Martin said. “Even though schools are still banning small books, we can still come out and publicly do this on our campus and there’s no repercussions from it.”
While many students read passages from books that are banned at the high school and college level, freshman Brendan Woods chose to read a passage from Captain Underpants, a children’s novel series that was banned in some schools for encouraging children to disobey authority and being unsuited to the targeted age group.
“Everyone was reading really sad and emotional things and I thought it would be a good idea to read something that’s more lighthearted to show that it’s not just deep, emotional things that get banned,” Woods said.
Banned Books Week started in 1982 after many books were challenged in schools, libraries and bookstores. Since 1982, more than 11,300 books have been challenged, banned or both, according to the ALA. Various groups, including religious and political organizations, have challenged these books. However, parents challenge materials more than any other group.
“We’re not necessarily doing book burnings but books are being challenged and banned across the country everyday… because the books go against the person’s personal beliefs,” Borgerding said. “It’s important to have access to this information, just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean somebody else won’t be able to learn from it.”