OPINION | College students should read more banned books

Everyone remembers the moment in “The Hunger Games” when Katniss Everdeen boldly screams “I volunteer as tribute.” Her sister was called to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal lower-class fight to the death put on by the upper class. Well, Katniss’s bravery in this moment does not matter because, according to complaints recorded by the American Library Association, she “has no respect for her family” and is “participating in occult acts.”

The ALA adds new titles to its banned books lists every year for reasons just like these, and as a result schools are losing these valuable educational tools at a time when it is more important than ever for students to have them.

Students of all ages should read banned books, but especially college students. Not only do we have easier access to banned books, but we can also better understand their content and advocate for the students most impacted by book bans.

In high school, I was lucky enough to read many now-banned books in English classes. I learned something from all of them, even the ones I disliked like “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley or “1984” by George Orwell.

When I took a mass media course, we analyzed the ALA’s banned books lists, and on their list of The Top 100 Most Banned Books From 2010-2019, “Brave New World” is number 26 and “1984” is number 79. They were banned for reasons like “sexual content,” “social discussions” and “political nature.”

After discovering this, I asked a younger family member if they had read either book in class yet. They were told that those two books had been replaced with different ones, showing just how quickly schools can lose access to books after a ban.

The Kraemer Family Library celebrates Banned Book Week every year by proudly displaying their collection from the ALA’s list. College students can access these books and have the advantage of understanding certain controversial topics better than younger students.

We can better defend the true meanings of these books and their place in schools.

For instance, I recently reread “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee for the first time since high school, and I now understand so much more about the book’s significance than I did when I was 15.

According to the ALA, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is frequently banned due to racial slurs that may impact students negatively and the emphasis on a white savior character.

I knew in high school that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is set during the Civil Rights Movement. I was extremely annoyed that Atticus lost his court case regarding a memorably gruesome instance of interracial sexual assault. In my eyes, the man on trial was wrongfully accused and arrested. I did not understand the full extent of segregation during that time.

Once that concept was broken down for me, I remember it really putting the Civil Rights Movement into perspective. I know now that Lee’s book reflects many realities of the 1950s and 1960s. I did not realize this when I was 15 without a few explanations from my teacher. I think that many students would find the novel’s racism offensive without clear emphasis on the norms of the time period.

College students know where to find information to clarify content like this and can pull from their previous knowledge to better understand these books. We can advocate against banning books from schools because we realize that the possibly uncomfortable lessons the books teach are extremely meaningful.

That advocacy can even go beyond knowledge. I think that college students can advocate for these books well because we can relate to some of the topics, especially those mentioned in newer additions to the banned books list.

For instance, many of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community enjoyed watching the Netflix show or reading the graphic novel “Heartstopper” because of its comforting representation. I rarely hear of any younger students finding that comfort in the books they read. I think this is because so many stories meant for them have spots on the banned book lists.

Raina Telegemeier’s “Drama” was on the Top 10 Most Challenged Books List by Year from 2014-2019. The reason for the ban was confusing sexual content, as two middle school boys in the book kiss during a school play. LGBTQ+ specific books have filled up more and more of these lists every year since.

Some college students may find that they can relate to characters like those middle school boys. A book like “Drama” may remind them of their own LGBTQ+ experiences, motivating them to advocate for the many banned books centered around LGBTQ+ topics on behalf of the kids who could not benefit from them if they become unobtainable.

Photo caption: Banned books are on display at the Kraemer Family Library this week. Photo by Kira Thorne.