London – Does a book talk too explicitly about slavery? Better to avoid it. Does another address the subject of suicide? Maybe you find a less demanding one. There are even William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie among the writers whom 140 British universities consider authors of texts “dangerous” for students, so much so as to cross them from the various recommended reading lists of literature courses or at least to make them optional for students who might feel offended by their content or too emotional to face such a training course.
This is what the Times newspaper discovered following a difficult investigative investigation that brought to light disconcerting results. After sending nearly 300 official requests to 140 universities across the country for textbooks that have been removed from reading lists, two universities, Essex and Sussex, admitted that they had removed certain texts for fear that they could be offensive. for students. Eight others, including those in Warwick, Exeter and Glasgow have not banned them, but turned them into optional readings “to protect the well-being of the students.” Already in the past some universities had been heavily criticized for having warned their members from reading some books and the Times always found more than a thousand examples to cite in the various courses for undergraduates, although the newspaper had many obstacles in this investigation. The academic authorities have tried to block it in every way – they tell the Times – for example by inviting teachers on social media not to respond to requests presented by journalists. “Some universities – says the article – did not want to provide any information for fear that these would have a negative impact on university staff”. Fear actually founded, since learning that The Underground Railroad, the story of Colson Whitehead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is considered dangerous for its too incisive description of American slavery, is actually worth thinking. “A fatuous, paternalistic and profoundly racist attempt,” said Trevor Phillips, president of Index on Censorship, an anti-censorship group that considers university policies to be part of “a broader wave of censorship existing in British campuses “. A strategy that has its roots in that “cancel culture” which, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, tends to erase past history when it becomes socially unacceptable in present times. “But it is important that universities do not forget history, even if it is uncomfortable,” commented Education Minister James Cleverly, according to whom “people must understand the horrors that have happened in the past, the changes that have resulted from it, such as things have improved and what improvements still need to be made ». “But if you constantly try to hide or erase historical events, then it is really difficult to understand the many advances that have taken place,” he stressed. The minister said he was convinced that universities have “a duty to protect the mental health of their students, but at the same time have a duty to help them put themselves to the test, to understand the world as it is and not just as they would like it to be. is”.