Reflections on Censorship

 by Valeen Gonzalez.   Sketch by Kirk McConnell.

Censorship isn’t something that I ever thought I would encounter.

Living in liberal California and growing up in Los Angeles, near Pasadena, I didn’t know what it was like to live in a conservative community that banned books. I also had parents who didn’t monitor my reading material. They could be conservative about what television or movies I watched, but left my reading choices up to me. I had read about books being “banned” and remember thinking what an overreaction it was when I saw images of churches burning “Harry Potter” books on the news.

Just last week, I read about a mother complaining about her middle-schooler reading “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” I checked that book out of the library at my Catholic school when I was in sixth grade and read it without any objections from my parents or the nuns who ran the school. As summer reading before my freshman year at a Catholic high school, also run by nuns, I read “The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver, another book that has drawn complaints from parents.

In my mind, censorship was one of those things that existed in conservative southern states, until I witnessed it on my college campus and my view changed.

At the beginning of the spring 2013 semester, administrators instructed the campus bookstore to remove volume nine of “The Chaffey Review,” a literary journal compiled by students, from its shelves.

As a member of the campus newspaper, also a student publication, the news of this censorship shocked us. Could the administration decide to remove our newspaper from the newsstands if they didn’t like what we published? It set a precedent that made us all uneasy.

In the midst of this censorship, our English class began reading “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. The book contains some tragic and graphic depictions of Jeannette’s upbringing. Her parents were selfish and neglectful parents who often exposed their children to dangerous situations without any concern or remorse.

I didn’t connect the book to censorship until One Book, One College sponsored a panel discussion on censorship, an event that our newspaper advisor, Doug Walsh, encouraged the newspaper staff to attend.  When English Professor Watkins introduced the event, he explained that, like the “Chaffey Review” had been pulled from the shelves earlier in the semester, “the Glass Castle” has been removed from the shelves of high school libraries.

I was looking forward to the event, but didn’t expect much attendance and thought it would probably be as educational, yet slightly boring, as some of the other events I have attended on campus. My expectations could not have been more wrong.

The panel discussion “You Can’t Say That: Censorship at Chaffey College” was held on March 27, 2013 in HS-143from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.. It got off to a bit of a rough start as attendees were initially locked out of the building, but the situation was quickly remedied by Campus Police, who unlocked the doors. Although starting a little late, the panelists and organizers worked swiftly to get themselves settled and get the discussion underway.

Most campus events are attended by about twenty to thirty students, but this event was attended by more than 100 people. I was shocked when I looked around and saw that just about every seat was filled and there were people standing in the back of the room. I started to realize just how much censorship affected our campus community beyond just “The Chaffey Review” and our newspaper.

The discussion was moderated by political science professor Kevin Cameron and started out with small introductions from each of the panelists, who were English professor and faculty adviser of the “Chaffey Review” Michelle Dowd, English professor Angela Bartlett and director of the Wignall Museum Rebecca Trawick.  After the introductions, Professor Cameron opened up the floor for questions and it was as if he opened the floodgates. Students and faculty in attendance all had questions and concerns about the censorship of the “Chaffey Review.”

Spanish Professor Tamari Jenkins wanted to know if the administration could censor a student publication again and if there was any way to prevent it. Pablo Martinez, a student who joined the Review this semester felt wronged by the administration. “I am now associated with something they have named as violent,” Pablo said. “How can they associate me with that and yet have no representation to back that action up? I’d like, as a student to tell them how I feel, but it seems like I can’t.”

Pablo’s reaction really stood out for me because he was genuinely upset by the administration’s actions and felt that he had no way to voice those concerns to them. We are students at a public institution and our administrators should be there to answer our questions, not leave us in the dark. Pablo wasn’t the only one who felt like the administration wasn’t listening.

The event gave the sense that the campus community, from students to faculty, was shaken by the recent censorship and left with more questions than answers from the administration. As students and faculty voiced concerns and asked questions, the panelists explained their views on censorship and Professor Cameron explained the legalities of the “Chaffey Review” incident.

The two hours flew by because there were so many hands raised  and so many attendees had things to say and questions to ask. After being at many campus events with sparse attendance and no one asking questions, this event was a refreshing surprise. As a student and as a journalist at Chaffey, it felt great to know that there are so many members of the student body and faculty who support freedom of the press on campus.

Although the event didn’t discuss “The Glass Castle” outright, I still left with the understanding that pulling any book off the shelves, whether it is a memoir or a student publication, robs students of a learning experience. School administrators must be careful at lower grade levels, but once students are in high school, and especially in college, it is important to treat students like adults and trust that they can understand more than administrators might think they can. After the discussion, which was the best event I have attended on campus so far, I felt so much more connected to the campus community and would wholeheartedly recommend a similar event to other students.

Every student on campus should know that they not only have rights to free speech and a free press, but that they have supporters among students and faculty.

This entry was published on April 22, 2013 at 5:45 am. It’s filed under Galleries, Opinion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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