Opinion: A tumult on social networks, a book challenge in Roseburg

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Miranda Doyle

Doyle, school librarian, is a member of the Oregon Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. She lives in Portland.

Social media is a powerful tool to incite outrage and schools are currently among the biggest targets. Whether it’s masks in schools, immunization warrants, or curricula that teach systemic racism, community members and social media have combined to turn schools into political battlegrounds.

It also affects libraries. Books have become frequent targets, facing challenges from parents or others, sometimes from outside school districts, demanding that libraries remove books they don’t like. Last month, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 60 percent more book challenges nationwide than in September of the previous year. Many of these book deletion requests start with sensational social media posts with words and pictures out of context and, unfortunately, sometimes succeed in getting a book deleted immediately.

Now, a book in a high school library in Roseburg has joined this national trend. Roseburg High School is currently facing a challenge for a New York Times # 1 bestselling book of poetry. “Milk and Honey” is by Rupi Kaur, a Canadian-Indian author and social media activist. The book deals with survivorship of sexual assault as well as empowerment, consent and female sexuality. No student is required to read the book, but for now they can choose to view it in the library.

“Milk and Honey” was published with rave reviews and high praise. It is housed in a large number of secondary and public libraries in Oregon and the United States. But at least one member of the Roseburg community has now filed a formal complaint, asking for the book to be taken down. The complaint is now forwarded to the district review committee, which includes an administrator, teachers, school specialists, a parent and a high school student, aged 17 or older, to decide the fate of the book.

The complaint comes after several people in the Roseburg area posted or shared images and poetry of “Milk and Honey” on Facebook last week, sparking anger. A message read: “We have to come in and take it off the shelf!” Others called the book “disgusting”, “child pornography” and “sick”. Of the more than 400 comments on a private Douglas County Facebook group, however, many were from community members who spoke in favor of the book.

“You all want to protect your kids from a miserable little book, but not from the situations it addresses,” one group member wrote. “Let the students read if they wish. They are old enough to know the subject or have experienced it themselves, but [may] not having a reliable and trustworthy person to turn to. More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 1 in 3 of these attacks occur between the ages of 11 and 17. It would be unfortunate if high school students could no longer consult a book that deals with these issues.

It is also important to read the entire book, not to look at clips chosen to shock. The Facebook posts were taken down and targeted a few drawings and phrases out of context. One of the illustrations that sparked outrage features a hand and fingers, with the words “you must have known you were wrong when your fingers were dipped in me”. Kaur describes what an uncle did to rape the young survivor. Yes, it’s a graphic and disturbing image – and that’s precisely why it effectively gives readers a glimpse of the pain the survivor went through. This is not “porn” and it is not meant to arouse. Rather, it forces the reader to understand the horror of what is endured and overcome.

In fact, most of the book doesn’t describe the original sexual abuse, but the process of recovery, joy, love, and empowerment. Kaur writes: “the world hurts you so much and you turn it into gold”, “you belong only to yourself” and “the way you love yourself is the way you teach others about yourself. to like “.

In Newberg, the school board recently banned Black Lives Matter signs and rainbow flags representing members of the LGBTQIA + community. Banning library books will have the same effect, and students will feel less welcome and safe in their schools. The author of “Milk and Honey” is a person of color, which also matches recent trends. As CNN reported in April, “Books that talked about racism and racial justice – or told the stories of people of color or the LGBTQ community – were among the most contested for being inappropriate for students in 2020.”

Library books should never be canceled simply because of complaints or controversies from angry individuals or crowds. Instead, each book deserves a process of review by objective professionals, in which the work is weighed on its various merits, including the right of library users to access a variety of materials that can help answer questions. deeply personal mental and emotional health needs. If sound policies and the rights of First Amendment students are upheld, I have no doubt that Roseburg Public Schools will choose to keep this powerful book.

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