How You Can Fight Censorship: Resources for Students

An introduction from Baylor University student Karly Shepherd and resources for students in the fight against book bans.

How You Can Fight Censorship: Resources for Students

This resource is a part of a collection about combating book bans. See more of what we’re doing and learn how you can help here.

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Karly Shepherd is a student at Baylor University. She studies English, Philosophy, and Political Science under an interdisciplinary major in the Baylor Honors Program. Karly became passionate about free speech during an internship at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and continues to lead several expressive projects on her campus, including Baylor’s Public Deliberation Initiative, an interfaith discourse organization called “Better Together,” and a departmental podcast about student communities and campus culture. Karly’s interests in collaborative discussion and story-sharing are further conveyed by her contributions to UnTextbooked – a youth-led history podcast sponsored by The History Co:Lab.

In seventh grade, I read The Book Thief. In ninth, Fahrenheit 451. This is to say, the concept of book banning was fictionally familiar well before it became personally relevant. Still, the tragedy of censorship, in these texts, seemed obvious – such that it could only occur in Nazi Germany or a fictional dystopia.

The very existence of this page within the “Banned Books Resources” permits you to chuckle ruefully at my naivete.

Book banning is on the rise in America. The nation’s characteristic principles of individual liberty and expressive freedom are being assailed by targeted restrictions on schools and libraries. While framed as the product of parental concern and community values, the large majority of today’s book bans are not organic, democratic reactions to changing culture. Instead, they reflect the work of increasingly partisan advocacy groups and elected officials who seek to eliminate dissenting viewpoints in the classroom and public square.

On the abstract level, book bans feed political polarization and encourage intolerance. They both indicate and enable a widespread unwillingness to consider perspectives different from our own. When we censor authors, we assert that only those views which we wholeheartedly agree with deserve to be heard and considered. Moreover, we abolish opportunities for critical thinking and relinquish our right to challenge current conceptions.

These ideological ramifications are realized in the classroom. Book bans fundamentally inhibit students’ discovery and discussion. They forbid curiosity from surpassing what is commonly known and accepted. What’s left is not impartial truth, but rather a narrow understanding of reality which underrepresents the numerous, diverse perspectives that constitute our society. Though it is certainly impossible and possibly unnecessary to reflect every such viewpoint at all times, the strategic prohibition of controversial outlooks is not a solution to controversy.

Book bans enforce silence. What we need is to speak.

I’ve learned this as a civil discourse facilitator on my college campus. While training students in public deliberation techniques and guiding them through contentious discussions, I’ve had the pleasure of reminding them that each of our beliefs emerge from unique combinations of personal experience. When we take time to understand why our neighbors think as they do, we unveil a shared desire to be heard and understood. We are forced to abandon our strawmen, recognize good intentions, and address our actual differences – which tend to be far less extreme than initially assumed. We need not be convinced by one another. In fact, earnest disagreements should be welcomed. However, we must be willing to engage with the possibility of disagreement, and disagree without abandoning respect for free speech or each other.

To achieve this, I propose the following civil discourse guideline: “Everyone is expected to be fully present & to engage in the deliberation – your voice matters!”

There is a space for every voice in the nationwide conversation about censorship and the active engagement of each is necessary. If singular voices are powerful enough to warrant banning, our collective voice must be powerful enough to command the right to speak.

– Karly Shepherd

Karly Shepherd shared the following resources that have been useful in her fight against censorship: 

  • UnTextbooked
    • UnTextbooked is the captivating history podcast led by young changemakers on a quest for answers to the biggest questions. The show presents engaging interviews with leading historians and deep dives into untold stories, forgotten heroes, and mesmerizing events that influence our world today. UnTextbooked may serve as an avenue for students and listeners of all ages to learn about historical topics which are increasingly banned from public school curriculum

Here are some additional resources we recommend. Follow the prompts for inspiration:

“I Want To Learn More About the Issue” 

“I Want To Protect My Freedom To Read” 

  • Use Book Resumes – resources to justify keeping frequently challenged titles on shelves