Crafton Hills College Stands By Graphic Novel Course

FunhomecoverFacing the wrath of the Internet, Crafton Hills College affirmed yesterday that it will not be “eradicating” any graphic novels from its English 250 course as 20-year-old student Tara Shultz and her parents demanded last week. The Shultz family disagrees with the college’s defense of academic freedom and now plans to take the issue higher, meeting with the community college district’s board of directors.

In a statement posted on the Yucaipa, California college’s website Monday evening, Crafton Hills President Cheryl Marshall said:

I support the college’s policy on academic freedom which requires an open learning environment at the college.  Students have the opportunity to study controversial issues and arrive at their own conclusions and faculty are to support the student’s right to freedom of inquiry.  We want students to learn and grow from their college experiences; sometimes this involves reaffirming one’s values while other times beliefs and perspectives change.

Tara Shultz, who is working towards an Associate Degree in English, knew when she began the course in January that it focussed on graphic novels, but said she “expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Out of 10 books covered in the class taught by Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett, she and her parents object to four: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman and a host of artists. Shultz remained in the class through the end of the semester on May 21.

In a new article from the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper yesterday, Shultz elaborated on her objections to the critically acclaimed books:

To know your money is kind of being wasted on something that is pornographic and contains pedophilia and contains rape jokes and murder and absolutely horrible, graphic violence is a very large disappointment. The fact this is being taught as an English course or at least trying to be taught as an English course was appalling not only to myself, but to my parents.

Despite maintaining her demand that the books be removed from the curriculum, and the fact that they no longer affect her since she has already finished the course, Shultz insists that she doesn’t “want to ban the books or burn them.” She told the newspaper “the beauty of the First Amendment” is that “you can read whatever you want to read.” Incongruously, however, she followed that statement up with the clincher: “I just don’t believe they need to be in an English course.”

The Redlands Daily Facts also spoke to CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, who noted the extreme rarity of a book challenge at the post-secondary level–particularly from “an adult and her parents.” He said that while college students may occasionally encounter course materials that offend them, they should be prepared to “have a conversation about it and not like in the words of this student, eradicate it from the system. More speech is always better than less speech.”

In fact, Crafton Hills Vice President of Instruction Bryan Reece said that’s exactly what the college aims to do:

To prepare our students for successful professional lives, we are intentionally trying to engage them in critical dialogues around difficult and contemporary issues. Professors need to inspire, to prod, to irritate, to create engaging environments that enable learning to take place.

Nevertheless, Marshall said future syllabi for the graphic novel course will include a disclaimer “so students have a better understanding of the course content.” She added that “I know [Bartlett] appreciated the differing views presented by Ms. Shultz in his class.” Despite the disclaimer, Tara’s father Greg Shultz says he now plans to speak to the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Directors which oversees Crafton Hills, and he has also contacted state lawmakers.

Greg Shultz also addressed some of the online criticism directed at his family over the weekend, particularly in reference to his previous statement that “if they [had] put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” He clarified yesterday that his daughter “decides on what classes she wants to take without us getting involved at all. She’s her own person, but we’re also a family.” He added that “people in the comic book world” are apparently “used to seeing that kind of stuff [in books], but for us it was shocking.”

CBLDF applauds Bartlett and Crafton Hills administrators for standing by their curriculum and their commitment to academic freedom. We will be watching for an equal display of backbone from the board of directors!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.