Save our stories: CSUMB Banned Book Week

Last week, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) observed Banned Book Week. 

The purpose of Banned Book Week is to raise awareness for the importance of literary freedom and the dangers of censorship.

The celebration was a collaboration between the Tanimura & Antle Family Memorial Library, the ethnic and gender studies department, the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) and the Otter Student Union (OSU). 

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, students and faculty filled an OSU conference room for a panel discussion on the impacts of censorship on libraries and schools. 

Leading the discussion was Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita of CSUMB’s College of Education, Branch Manager of the Marina Library Melissa Mejia and Caren Pantoja, a fifth-grade teacher at Arroyo Seco Academy in Greenfield.

Although censoring books has been an issue throughout history, “there is a difference in the way that it’s happening now … it is happening at a rate that is a little scary,” Mejia said.

Despite book bans being illegal in California schools, the American Library Association reports a 20% increase in unique titles banned nationwide.

In addition to the jump in banned titles, book bans are increasingly organized affairs. Mejia notes that with more frequency, “there are groups that are coming together … there’s legislative backing with it.”

“One of the questions that we typically ask when books are being banned is, ‘why this book? Why this theme? Why this topic?’ Typically it has to do with any movement away from the status quo,” said Meija.

According to Pantoja, the goal of censorship movements is oftentimes “trying to silence certain voices.”

Pantoja notes that to maintain healthy education systems, “we need more voices, we need more representation and we need students to be able to learn from different experiences … we should have a society that is inclusive and respectful to all, and we can do that by starting to introduce some of these books to children.”

Additionally, members of the panel stressed the importance of diverse perspectives, even one’s they disagree with, because it helps build critical thinking skills.

“Sometimes I read something that I find offensive to try to understand the thinking of people … that I don’t like, just so I can figure out something about where they’re coming from,” said Sleeter. 

Mejia added, “as a public librarian, I don’t believe we should be censoring any book. I like to believe and trust in the public to make their own decisions … It’s an important process to be able to read something and be like, ‘that’s garbage.’”

In addition to the discussion, students participated in a “Banned Book Read-Out” on Nov. 8 in front of the OC3. 

Participants in the read-out picked some of their favorite banned or previously banned books, reading chapters and passages to a group of around 20 students. 

Fourth-year Cylysce Ramirez read aloud “Areli Is a Dreamer: A True Story by Areli Morales, a DACA Recipient.”

The story follows a young girl’s journey from Mexico to New York and her experience of separation from her parents and feelings of alienation within the American school system.

According to Ramirez, “even though it may not be my story or your story,” exposure to stories such as Areli’s are important for “getting a glimpse into what people go through.”

At the end of the discussion panel, Mejia offered some advice to CSUMB students concerned with the present threat of book bans. 

“I would encourage [students] to find ways to keep engaging in the conversation [surrounding censorship], whether that’s creating their own book club, coming together and reading banned books … be aware and engage in the issue.”

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