A student enrolled at Crafton Hills College has protested the inclusion of a number of graphic novels in the curriculum for her English 250 course. Tara Shultz, along with her parents and friends have called for the “eradic[ation] [of the books] from the system,” and have complained to the College’s administrators over their inclusion.
The graphic novels in question, Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last Man Vol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House, are four of the ten graphic novels included in the course’s curriculum, and Shultz has complained about the nudity, sex, violence and torture contained in them. According to the Redland Daily Facts newspaper, Shultz claimed that “It was shocking, I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” The student brought forward the complaint after the point at which she could drop the course without receiving a failing grade.
According to the College’s course catalog, EN 250 is a genre literature course:
Study of fiction as a literary genre through readings, in-class discussions, and analytical assignments. Emphasis will be on a particular type of fiction (See the current class schedule for the specific sub-genre.)
This is the third time the course’s instructor, Ryan Bartlett, has taught the course, but that this is the first time that a student had complained about the content of the materials.
The college indicated that they would provide a disclaimer for the course in the future, based on the conversations that they have had with the student’s parents. The parents have also complained that the books are available in the school’s bookstore.
It is annoying to see such a dismissal of graphic novels and comics in general: the assumption that comic books are juvenile and aimed primarily at children. It’s a tired, predictable argument, and there’s innumerable examples of where graphic novels have examined difficult issues, demonstrating over and over again that the medium can contribute to the literary canon as well as any novel. Even the long-running and established franchise characters can tell incredible and important stories, while entertaining at the same time.
Graphic novels have had a long-standing relationship with authorities and censorship: entities such as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have been established for that very reason. This incident comes not too long after students from Columbia University argued that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should require a ‘Trigger Warning’ for potentially disturbing content, sparking considerable debate across academic circles. For Shultz’s part, her objections aren’t just that she wasn’t aware of potentially distressing content (although she was provided with a syllabus prior to the class, which listed the books), but that she also feels that they shouldn’t be taught, period. “I don’t want them taught anymore. I don’t want anyone else to have to read this garbage.”
This isn’t unfamiliar language when it comes to comic books and literature, but it’s distressing to see that it persists. Shultz, who’s studying for her associate’s degree in English and in American Sign Language, was featured on the college’s website under their career section, where she indicated that she wanted to continue on to study law and “perhaps become a Congresswoman further down the line.” These are admirable goals: completing college and aiming to work representing one’s peers in Government. However, representing a population representing individuals of all interests, viewpoints and speech, not just what one finds personally offensive.
Determining just what speech is deemed offensive has a long legal history, and this new development of how course content should be displayed and used in a course is worrying. Colleges and Universities, each designed to educate, should not be held back by trying to paper over content that might be distressing to some, or by protests over content or speakers which one personally objects to. Institutions of higher education should be free and open forums of debate and open discussion on contentious issues and topics, in the furtherance of learning and enlightenment.
In the meantime, she’d do well to avoid other graphic novels Saga and Locke & Key. Snark aside, hopefully the family involved will examine their reactions and recognize that addressing and examining what one deems to be questionable content can be a useful and fulfilling academic exercise. At the same time, hopefully the college will reconsider slapping a disclaimer label on the course and its contents.
via Redlands Daily Facts.