Banned Books Week & Dumb Cynicism

Throughout the first few weeks of my involvement in the Writing Center, much of my attention has been devoted to familiarizing myself with UCWbL logistics and becoming comfortable within this wonderfully collaborative new work environment. After several work shifts, I finally started to feel completely at ease with all the procedures and felt like I had a grasp on everyone’s name. Yes, I was feeling like a regular UCWbL scholar with my tutor logs completed and all the “minimalism” term-dropping in regular conversation. Until one day tutor and Outreach team member Jen F. unexpectedly invited me to help her run the Banned Books Week table in the Student Center, and my perception of the Writing Center took an astronomical 180˚.

Banned Books Week exists as a project spearheaded by the UCWbL Outreach Team. Of course, I had heard about the Outreach Team at our all-staff orientation, but had foolishly devoted no time to further investigation.  On our walk over to the Student Center, Jen explained to me that Banned Books Week has a two-fold mission: to publicly exercise  our first amendment rights in the form of readings from banned books and to promote the mission of the UCWbL to the university. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. “Banned Books Week, while a wonderfully stick-it-to-the-man kind of event, could not possibly carry the missions of the center,” I thought, “What’s more, how does this event even relate to our goal of making better writers?” I was in for a real awakening.

A plethora of diverse books covered our table. From children’s picture books like And Tango Makes Three to feminist novels like The Awakening, the display encompassed a hodgepodge of books with such different histories and social impacts that the sheer sight of them, united by a “banned” designation, was altogether poignant.  Not unlike the varied display, was the amount of different people who stopped by the table. Faculty, students, janitors, and children alike listened to readings, perused books, and sometimes participated in readings.  There was one student who nearly read Fahrenheit 451 in its entirety, many confused by the alleged Satanism in Harry Potter, and a number of people who (go figure) wanted to know more about the UCWbL.

I am glad my ill-founded cynicism was completely demolished by the day’s events. Banned Books Week spread the message of the UCWbL because the all-inclusive, social aspects of our tutoring were at the forefront of this event. The powers of public discourse and discussions about reading and writing have the potential to illuminate new facets of learning and living to students and educators alike. Whether it’s the curious janitor thumbing through 1984 or the student afforded the opportunity to read their favorite controversial literature into a microphone, a powerful sense of intellectual liberation and communal support indubitably arises. Outreach and the Writing Center, I learned, really go hand-and-hand.