September 22-28 was Banned Books Week. The Media Theory and Method class was hard at work for the events on Wednesday, September 25 to celebrate Banned Books Week. The preparations to this event included advertising, getting the books from the library, setting up and cleaning up before and after the movie, as well as helping with the Banned Books Read-Out.
According to bannedbooksweek.org, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Dr. Johnathon Long, Communications Professor, started the Banned Books Week events on campus two years ago. “As the Media Law and Ethics professor, many students are surprised to learn how many and how often books are challenged or banned in the United States. Having seen where other colleges have held a read-out to inform individuals that, yes, it can happen here in the US (and, sadly, quite frequently in the state of Pennsylvania), I have long wanted to hold such an event on our campus, and enlisting the help of communications students is a great way to foster excitement and participation in the week’s events,” Dr. Long stated.
The events of the day started out at 11 a.m. at the Learning Commons in the John Stewart Memorial Library. Dr. Long started the Read-Out with a short introduction of Banned Books and read for five minutes from a Judy Blume book. Students and professors took turns reading from books that have been banned or challenged for five-minute intervals. Attendance was a little small for the read-out this year, but the ones who read and the students who listened enjoyed their time at the read out. Dr. Long commented, “The number of attendees at this year’s read-out was less than we expected. On the one hand, the idea of reading from a banned or challenged book does not have the same draw as a film based on such books. On the other hand, the fact that the event was on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday likely reduced the number of available attendees due to classes and lunch. This year’s communications students have already expressed a number of ideas for increasing attendance, including more faculty involvement as well as moving the events back to a Thursday.”
At 9:15 p.m., the Banned Books Week events finished out the day with a showing of the 2013 version of “Carrie,” a film based off Stephen King’s novel, in the Brooks Auditorium. Snacks such as homemade cookies, popcorn and cotton candy were offered along with juice boxes to enjoy during the movie. While entering the auditorium, students had the choice of being entered into a raffle for a signed graphic novel. “Students tell me that getting more than a dozen or so of their peers to show up for an on-campus event is a good turnout. By that metric, the film screening has been a great success. Turnout last year was about sixty students; this year, almost forty-five. This year we also had a raffle for an autographed graphic novel and everyone involved thought this was a nice idea,” said Dr. Long when asked how he thought the day went.
As for Dr. Long’s favorite event, he commented, “Being a professor, it probably isn’t too surprising that the readout is my favorite event. In a world where the majority of countries do not enjoy free speech or anything like the First Amendment, just the simple act of reading for a few minutes from a book that has been challenged or banned is both exciting and empowering—exciting because you are reading something that, in many countries, is taboo; and empowering because you feel the strength that comes from living in a democracy like ours. For rather than banning books, we should always be celebrating the freedom to read what we can rather than what we are told.”