Community members discuss recent increase of book bans nationwide


Illustration by Jordan Mangi

Government officials and school boards around the country have sought to ban certain books from being taught in schools.

Ella Jeffries, Reporter

In the past few months, Texas State Representative Matt Krause put over 800 books on a watch list, an Oklahoma state senator filed a bill to possibly prohibit 51 books from schools and a school board in Tennessee banned the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocast memoir, “Maus.” 

For more than a century, books have been the target of bans nationwide. However, the push by some U.S. officials to ban books has recently surged, with award-winning titles like “Of Mice and Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” finding themselves on curriculum review lists. 

Sociology Prof. Laura Nielsen said these bans are an attempt by government officials to eliminate certain ideas and experiences. Nielsen said this includes “whitewashing” history, as many of the novels being banned address issues of race, abortion and sexuality. 

“It’s not at all surprising to me that the people in power are attempting to censor messages that humanize people that are members of traditionally disadvantaged groups,” Nielsen said. 

At least 11 of the books on Kraus’s list focus on the historic Roe v. Wade ruling, and others include titles such as “LGBTQ Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee and “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall. 

Like Nielsen, Campus and Community Engagement Librarian Chris Davidson said he was frustrated when he heard the news. Books are a gateway to learning about the experiences of others, he said.

“It’s important for young people to see themselves and understand who they are,” Davidson said. “When we take those things away — and it tends to be the marginalized communities whose stories are being taken from them — we create the feeling for them that their stories shouldn’t be told.” 

Northwestern libraries are part of many nationwide that participate in the annual Banned Books Week in September. The week began in 1982 as a response to a sudden increase in attempts to ban books in schools, libraries and bookstores.

Davidson said the University uses the week to educate people who are unaware of the concept of book bans. NU libraries have created displays of banned books to feature the ideas that people are seeking to suppress, he said.  

Officials have cited profanity, nudity and violence as justification for these bans, arguing such content makes these books inappropriate as teaching material.

But Nielsen believes this decision should rest in the hands of school educators, not government officials. 

“No books should be banned, they should be curated to be age-appropriate,” Nielsen said. “The teachers who work with the students and who have taught these things for many years are probably going to be the best judges of what the students can take in and contextualize.” 

Weinberg freshman Maya Vuchic is from New Jersey, a state where parents have advocated at school board meetings to ban certain books.

Vuchic said seeing individual representatives trying to ban books illustrates how the whims of government officials can have negative effects on people’s rights. 

“Two of the fundamental rights in democracy are freedom to education and freedom of speech,” Vuchic said. “When we ban books, we threaten both of these rights.” 

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Twitter: @ellajeffriess 

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