Photo courtesy of rupikaur.com
Following Banned Books Week at the Roseburg High School library, the district librarian, Mrs. Felgentrager, received some nasty messages and calls from disgruntled community members. Ironically, they were demanding a book be banned and removed from the library on campus. The book, “Milk and Honey,” written by Rupi Kaur, covered the author’s survival through sexual abuse and violence. Very dark and loaded topics, but the book is nonetheless her art, expression, story, and outlet for her experiences. This book of poetry is a safe haven for some and a story of survival for others, and parents and community members are trying to take this text off of the shelves of our library. A piece of art being restricted from teens because of the topic it addresses is absurd; to silence someone’s form of expression and their story is unbelievable, and it points to a broader issue. To restrict art from students is bigger than a single story. It is restricting culture, expression, and an outlet for everybody.
Whether it’s a written form of art, a physical form of art, or art through sound, none should be discouraged or restricted. These forms of expression show adolescents that it is okay to struggle and not be okay. Taking these examples away from kids can open the floodgates of their stress, struggles, and anxiety. Art filled with dark topics can show people that they’re not alone, especially a book of poetry like Kaur’s “Milk and Honey” that details experiences most people might not be experiencing, but almost everybody can learn or take comfort from.
For society to want schools to prevent kids from expressing themselves through artwork is an atrocity; by avoiding “controversial work,” they’re withdrawing an outlet and form of expression for students who may not have somebody to listen to them. The ability to express oneself through art shouldn’t be something that’s controlled. These expressions help students think critically about what goes on around them and can help with their mental health. Practicing all forms of art can help students academically, too, by helping students learn to critique themselves and practice growing as an individual, instilling a growth mindset and a positive attitude towards criticism.
All this being said, the community members requesting that “Milk and Honey” be taken out of the Roseburg High School library are worried about the wrong things. Although a dark story, it shows students with growing minds that it’s okay to release their grief and anguish through art, such a valuable lesson for students who may be struggling with school, family, or friends. Not everybody feels comfortable sharing their situation with words, nor does everybody have a reliable and trustworthy person to share their adversities with, which shows the importance of artistic expression and self-understanding through art.