In defense of banned books


Sequoia’s Media Center has long been a place where students can be found completing homework, picking up a new book, or engaging in meaningful conversations with peers. Contrasting the serene atmosphere of the small library, on the morning of October 24, national news outlet Fox News released an article regarding our school’s Media Center. The focus of the article centered the ‘banned books’ collection displayed during Banned Books Week from September 18 – 24, 2022, an annual event celebrating ‘the freedom to read,’ bringing attention to the censorship of controversial books nationwide. The books targeted that had been prohibited by parents in school districts around the country, explored the personal lives, struggles, and experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ and Black communities. Many of them were memoirs included sex, violence and mental health because they were major themes that recalled real stories and experiences from the authors. 

However, it is an untruthful cry to frame the content of the books as ‘sexually charged,’ or ‘pornographic,’ as Fox had accused. Each word on every page was important in bringing issues central to underserved and underrepresented communities to the forefront of popular discussion.

“We have to make those stories part of the mainstream and we have to be okay discussing things that we know are happening. Our society reproduces. People want pleasure, people go through pain, people suffer. Are we pretending these things don’t happen?” Betsy Snow, Sequoia’s Library Media Specialist, said. 

The books also allowed Sequoia students, who may have previously felt left out because of their race or sexual and gender orientations, to find a safe space to feel like they belonged and were represented. Such was the intention of creating Sequoia’s banned book collection- showing the full range of teenage life and the search for identity and acceptance, in hopes of giving a voice to historically underrepresented teens and sparking conversation on long-overdue topics at a critical time in history. 

Fox’s reaction to the banned books collection reflects the growing aggression and discomfort expressed by many as a result of uneasiness around people whose identities and experiences differ from their own. As a result of the unwarranted discomfort, marginalized populations are often silenced. 

The challenging of controversial books is not a new issue; the banning of books, particularly in K-12 educational schools where they are often challenged by parents, has existed in one form or another since the advent of mass media, but in recent years with the rise of social media, such a trend has only grown. From June 2021 to July 2022, over 2500 titles have been banned in school districts across the country, with around 40% of said books featuring ‘LGBTQ themes’ or prominent characters of color.  Additionally, the books mentioned in the articles all center around the experiences of LGBTQ+ and Black youth, intending to promote a diverse catalog of books in the library. Instead of celebrating the joys of shared knowledge, Fox chose to center their own discomfort with the ideas of the books and persuade others to do the same out of fear of differing narratives. 

“The feelings of recognition, representation and affirmation that marginalized folks experience in a diverse library collection far outweigh the discomfort others feel when met with challenging literature and ideas,” Snow said.  “I can understand people not wanting their own child to experience something but it’s that collective fear that banning books promotes that is absolutely unacceptable in a society that values free speech.”

While the Fox News article primarily targeted Sequoia’s Media Center, there was also worry that local school and public libraries would be targeted as well for having the same books on their shelves. Librarians were made aware of the incident and informed that they may be targeted as well. Fortunately, there has been no news of Fox or other news publications publishing articles with the same intent about other librarians. 

“I [met] with the public library because of course, they have the same books we have. I want to let them know that there’s something in our community.…Fortunately, the public library is not afraid, they are more than happy to go on record saying all the same things. And so I just felt that it was important for the sake of their staff,” Snow said.

Outside of just an issue surrounding libraries, the intentions of the article also reflect the real world. The targeting and censoring of free speech that grows with each action taken to further it should be seen as an attack of the fundamental rights of free speech. Furthermore, the deliberate fixation on communities of color and LGBTQ+ people demeans and stifles the power of those deeply necessary voices in conversation. The absence of the experiences of underrepresented groups ends up contributing to misrepresentations and false generalizations, and a general decrease in acceptance of queer identities and Black people. 

With this, the Raven Report urges its readers to have challenging and thoughtful conversations about these banned books for themselves, proving our community celebrates diversity of experience. We hope that students form their own opinions on these matters that are based in research, facts and meaningful context, rather than jump to conclusions based on sensational or popular arguments that they hear. Additionally, we encourage everyone to take advantage of the knowledge provided by them through the Media Center to counter the stifling of knowledge and free speech the article is intending to promote and explore the numerous resources available at Sequoia.

“I hope [Sequoia students] learn to really engage with the resources around them. Because Sequoia has so many resources, whether it’s finding ways to manage their mental health through the TRC, whether it’s using athletics as an outlet to be healthy and active, whether it’s using the Digital Arts Academy (DAA) or the Health Careers Academy (HCA) to find their passion, whether it’s the College and Career Center to make sure their college choices are apparent and clear. We have so many resources these students just don’t see the way that they could,” Snow said.

 Knowledge gives us the ability to enact change and make a difference, let us use it to empower each other and stand strong as a united school and community.


Correction: Previously we wrote that the Banned Book collection was displayed October 24 to 28.