Sexual Assault Discussions | Scales on Censorship

Date rape impacts a community; appropriate holiday decor; protesters at a Halloween event.

Last year a parent complained about a Christmas bulletin board display in the elementary school library. This incident has made the entire faculty worried about creating any display centered on Christmas. Is this giving in to censorship?

I would never suggest that you give in to complaints, but you do need to analyze whether this is actually a censorship issue. Please remember that the First Amendment advocates the separation of church and state. You didn’t share the exact content of your bulletin board, but public schools must avoid displays that depict the celebration of a holiday of one particular religion. This is a good time of year to plan a social studies unit on winter holidays celebrated around the world. These may include: Christmas, Hanukkah, Los Posadas, Kwanzaa, Saint Nicholas Day, and Winter Solstice. You might also include how various countries celebrate the New Year. I can’t imagine that anyone would complain if the information were presented from a cultural and global view. What a broadening experience this would be for students, faculty, and the community.

 

A high school student from a nearby town was recently date raped. The news made the front page of our newspaper and received much airtime on the local television station. The students in our high school are terribly upset and want to talk about it. However, the principal has instructed the faculty not to discuss the incident. What should the faculty do?

The principal is probably trying to avoid any type of controversy, but he is being insensitive. The students have a need to talk about this, and they certainly need to know what to do if they find themselves in uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations with someone they thought they could trust. The faculty should meet with the counselor and discuss ways the school could offer open dialogue with students. Student leadership may have ideas as well. Initiatives could include inviting someone from a local rape crisis center to speak with the students. Present your ideas to the principal. Surely he will recognize the need to deal with this subject if a large faction of the faculty and student body is behind it.

In addition, I would hope that the topic of rape and date rape is addressed in sex education classes taught to middle and high school students.

I also suggest providing a bibliography of books about date rape for students to read and discuss. Titles may include Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Forthcoming is a companion book, Shout, about Anderson’s personal experience); Exposed by Kimberly Marcus; Inexcusable by Chris Lynch; and, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. Post information about the books on the school’s website and attach a few open-ended questions for discussion. The teens will welcome this, and I bet their parents will, too.

 

I’m the director of teen services for a large public library system. It’s my job to oversee programs at the main library and the 20 branch libraries. For Halloween, we sponsored a “scary” costume party and invited a professional storyteller whose specialty is scary stories. The program was well attended and received rave reviews from the participants. However, there was a disturbing incident at a branch library located in a very conservative section of the city. The teens attending the program were met by a crowd of people who shouted “evil” at them as they entered the door. The group also tried to distribute religious literature.

Citizens have the right to peacefully protest, but it sounds as if the crowd tried to intimidate those attending the program. I hope security was successful in making the teens feel safe. Make this a teachable moment by pointing out to the participants that the U.S. Constitution allows for such protests. Let them know that they have a right to refuse the literature, and ignore the heckling from the crowd. It’s likely that an organized religious group spearheaded the protest. Perhaps those who attended the program would like to address this religious group by writing a guest editorial for the local newspaper. Make sure they understand how to articulate their side of the issue.

Libraries should have a policy that addresses controversial programs. The American Library Association has excellent guidelines for crafting such policies, which should also be reviewed on a regular basis.

By no means let this incident deter you from planning more creative and fun programs for teens.

 

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at pscales@bellsouth.net.

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