The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

Banned books week highlights censorship

Posted in Chicago by Dominic Gwinn on October 9, 2014

The following story originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, on October 9, 2014

BannedBooksWeek

On Saturday, Sept. 26, tucked quietly in the back of Logan Square’s City Lit Books, a crowd of roughly 30 men, women and children gathered for a showcase of imagination concocted to indoctrinate the minds of Chicagoans during  National Banned Books Week.Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 was National Banned Books Week.

While Sam Bradwell, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parent, plucked away at his upright bass, a raspy cupped trumpet puttered softly as Katherine Larkin read aloud “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

And Deirdre Harrison gave a glimpse into the Iranian revolution. These societal rebels were, in their wiords, “challenging state censorship.”

The American Library Association (ALA) started it back in 1982 with the intention of bringing attention to the harms of censorship on frequently challenged books.

It is part celebration, part social awareness campaign.

All across the country, scholars, teachers, librarians and authors came together to protest and argue that the only bad book is one that suffers from a state-sanctioned embargo.

Chicago’s most recent exposure to censorship took place when Lane Tech College Prep High School suddenly pulled Marjane Satrapi’s 2000 autobiographical graphic novel, “Persepolis,” from its course curriculum in 2013.

The school received serious backlash from parents and civil rights groups that still resonates more than a year later.

“There’s an established protocol for challenging a book. The ALA has all these guidelines of what you’re supposed to do, all these different channels you can go through, and what [they] did was so offensive because they didn’t even know about any of that,” said an angry Bradwell.    “They just sent the guys in and pulled the book from the library. I mean, How many different ways can you do it wrong?”

While Lane Tech has since made the book available for students in its library, “Persepolis” remains absent from the school’s curriculum for, according to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Satrapi’s use of, “graphic imagery and language.”

Deidre Harrison’s daughter attended Lane Tech.

And as a parent,Harrison continues to disagree with the school’s move and CPS’ complacency.

Harrison stood before the crowd reading select passages aloud, displaying the scenes for the audience.

“To see a narrative, especially from a girl’s perspective, number one about dress codes, is totally relevant to all of them, and this idea of dress codes reflecting tribes…it’s interesting,” said Harrison. “She’s like, ‘I am religious, but I want to define that for myself,’ so this idea how women, in whatever constructs they are, get to define what that means, what their value is…I think it’s a super relevant narrative. It’s a graphic novel, and there’s not a lot of women-authored graphic novels. Graphic novels are one area where women are doing real interesting stuff.“

At Roosevelt University, English Professor Ji’Hyae Park encourages her students to read “Persepolis” in her ENG 115 class, “Exploring Comics and Film.”

“I chose ‘Persepolis’ because it is a comic that has been adapted into a film successfully, which, therefore, fits into the topic of the course.  Moreover, it’s a great autobiographical comic,” said Park. “While   I do think that comics like ‘Persepolis’ might be more effectively used for certain ages than others in the classroom.  I don’t think it makes sense to ban the book.  From what I’ve read, the images depicting torture are what some people object to. But what they fail to understand is that these are images reflecting a child’s imagination of torture—not a realistic depiction of torture.”

Park also said that she thinks Satrapi is trying to do something different than only show graphic images for their own sake, but instead explore how children attempt to make sense of things that they perhaps do not yet understand.

“She reminds us that even though we try to shield children from violence and torture, they encounter it anyway.  I think it’s better to encounter it in this comic, which doesn’t sensationalize torture, but instead makes readers aware of the politics that make it possible, and how it impacts the everyday lives of people,” said Park.

Restricted access to literary works is certainly nothing new as William Shakespeare, J.D. Salinger, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne have all been chastised throughout history for conflicting community values and suggestive themes.

Canadian author Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel, “Little Brother,” which encourages readers to challenge authority figures and stresses technological awareness, was recently restricted from Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla.

In response, Doctorow and his publisher, Tor Books, sent 200 copies to the school free of charge.

“The brilliant thing about life in the 21st century is that challenging or banning a book just makes it easier to get and all the more intriguing for having been challenged,” Doctorow wrote via email when questioned about the effectiveness of censorship. “If the principal of Washington High wanted to really make sure that every kid in his school wanted to find out just why this book was so dangerous that they shouldn’t be allowed to read it, all he had to do was challenge it.”

Professor Park herself is no stranger to the scrutiny over literary material.

“I did teach a book that was the object of controversy, ‘Blu’s Hanging’ by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, in an upper-level college course on Gender and Sexuality in Asian American literature,” said Park. “The book initially received an award from the Association of Asian American Studies, but it was later rescinded because some people thought it portrayed Filipinos in a racist manner. The way I designed the course, however, was to ‘teach the controversy.’ I intentionally chose books that were divisive and controversial to get students to respond to the literature, but also to understand the academic debates that shape the way literature is publicized and taught…But there is a vast difference between a book like ‘Persepolis’ that is trying to educate readers about the dangers of totalitarian political regimes, as well as the problems of stereotyping an entire people by the deeds of a few in power, than something that sensationalizes torture or violence for its own sake or in an exploitative manner.”

Roosevelt’s History of Veteran Service Alive, and in Good Hands

Posted in Chicago by Dominic Gwinn on October 1, 2014

The following article originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, in Fall 2014. 

Roosevelt University’s long history of service to military veterans can be traced back to before its founding in 1944 when President Franklin Dealno Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Bill,  commonly known as the “G.I. Bill”, which granted unprecedented social welfare programs to every man and woman who served the nation in times of peace or war. Hailed as major economic driver after World War 2, the G.I. Bill has allowed millions of veterans and their dependants access a higher education that they may have otherwise never been able to obtain.

 

Today, as thousands of veterans return home to the families they left behind, many are faced with limitless prospects thanks in part to the same legislation put in place generations ago. At Roosevelt, Peter La Haire is tasked with helping these new veterans take the next step in their already incredible lives. As Roosevelt’s lone Veteran Services Coordinator, Peter tirelessly dedicates himself to all the students who enter his office, be they veterans, their spouses or dependents.

 

“We have 87 veterans that go to school here, along with 30 dependents. My job is to work with them from the time they express interest in the institution.” says La Haire from his modest corner office on the third floor of the Wabash building.  “I work with them through the enrollment process, admissions, financial aid; I coordinate all of the information exchange with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and make sure that all their tuition is being paid appropriately (and that tends to be priority number one). I want to make sure that they do not have to focus on their money, and that they can concentrate on their academic outcome.”

 

La Haire provides these students in need with with more than just advice to student services such as visiting the Academic Success Center, counseling services, or methods of tuition assistance, he reminds them that they are not alone.

 

“You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done,” La Haire advises, “you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”

 

Paul Loebe, a Marine Reservist, current Roosevelt student, and aide in the Veterans Services Office served on active duty for 8 years. “I was stationed in Hawaii and Camp Pendleton, California,” Loebe proudly states. “I served two tours to Iraq, one tour to Afghanistan, and one Expeditionary deployment to the middle east…I think only one of my classes knows, and they only really know because of my backpack. I try not to make a big deal about it.”

 

Loebe, dressed casually smart in a burgundy button–up shirt that is tucked neatly in his khaki slacks, wants to spread Roosevelt’s message of social justice as he laterally transitions from current Mastery of Service (or M.O.S.) in Artillery, to 3D Civil Affairs where he hopes to make  and, “effective and lasting impact.”

 

“Probably what attracts me the most [to Roosevelt] is the mission statement,” Loebe continues with warm smile. “I love what Pete’s done with putting this together. I’m actually trying to see if we can get a veterans [group] started here. One of the things I know I had when I started here is the brotherhood, but suddenly, it’s gone.”

 

La Haire explains that a lot people that veterans struggle with the transition from servicemen to student, and that poor experiences in school or their their military career can derail that transition . “A lot of that comes not necessarily from what happened that was bad about their time in the service, but it’s that they miss the good stuff. They miss the camaraderie.”

 

Mike Vivirito, a senior and Journalism major concurs with feeling of isolation when he recounted his experiences. “I served in Iraq under the 101st Airborne until September of 2006. I drove 220,000 miles from Kuwait, throughout Iraq and into many parts of Syria, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia…You remember in the Army; every morning you got up and did what the other 20 guys around you did? Well in school, you are on your own. You need to take all the organization, dedication, motivation and discipline you learned and apply it to being a great student,” says Vivirito.

 

“Roosevelt has done a very good job with its veterans.”, Vivirito continues,”Peter LaHaie, especially, has been an irreplaceable guide through the G.I. Bill and Veteran Program at R.U. His dedication and follow through have been an unequal tool in my success at R.U. thus far.”

 

As a former Roosevelt student and veteran, La Haire knows first hand the needs for Roosevelt’s service members and reminds students that they are not alone in their new avenues towards success.

 

“I got my Bachelors in 2012, started in 2010,” recalls La Haire with a raised brow and jovial grin. “…When I decided I was going to go to college at 35, I went to school full-time, and I worked full-time…I came, I took the tour, and at the time the best view was out of the library because [the Wabash] building wasn’t here. As soon as the doors opened, that was it! Hook, line and sinker…When I came off active duty, and took off the uniform, I went from having what we consider the, “Ultimate Purpose”: defending this great nation, and we [veterans] can have this sort of identity crisis in that you can wonder, “What’s it all about now?” You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done, and then you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”

 

As an institution that was initially comprised of numerous servicemen and women, Roosevelts current veterans help to add to its nationally revered status as one of the most diverse colleges. While their current numbers may not be as vast as they initially were, it is important to remember that, as times changes, one must honor not just the past veterans, but the sacrifices of the present veterans, be they large or small.

 

“I’m trying my best to make this the Go-To institution for veterans looking to start and complete their higher education, “La Haire stresses, wrinkle in his brow and a fist clenched in honesty. “I want them to know that when they come here they will be well taken care of, that they will be fed, that their needs will be met…When people ask me what I do, I primarily work with [the veteran] population, but the first three words out of my mouth are, “I graduate students”. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s not just enrolling them, it’s serving them and making sure that they walk across that stage! That what’s brings me to work as a Roosevelt administrator, I’ll do it for any student I come in contact with, but that’s what I do.”

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