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Do Works by Men Toppled by #MeToo Belong in the Classroom?

Emily Gowen, a literature instructor at Boston University, had a “provocative conversation” with her students about whether it was appropriate for her to assign works by a writer accused of harassment.

Professor Hungerford had decided after...

Professor Hungerford had decided after several years of teaching the course to remove Mr. Wallace’s works from the syllabus. Her decision was shaped by a number of factors, she said, including stories of his abusive behavior toward women[1]. The lesson once focused on Mr. Wallace now draws on the work of the graphic novelist Alison Bechdel.

“There’s always more to read than you can ever read, and when you’re thinking about the opportunity costs on a syllabus, that can certainly be a consideration,” Professor Hungerford said.

But others have stuck to their reading lists, sometimes even addressing the moral stakes of their decisions in class.

Emily Gowen, a literature instructor at Boston University, asked her freshmen to read Mr. Díaz’s short story “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” alongside his essay in The New Yorker about being sexually assaulted as a child. Then she asked whether it was appropriate for her to assign his work in light of the accusations against him.

What ensued, she said, was an “unbelievably provocative discussion.”

“I wanted them to feel entitled to question the syllabus, which is this thing students take for granted as neutral even though it’s actually loaded,” Ms. Gowen said. “I wanted them to know that art is nuanced and complex, and in any artist’s life there is going to be something objectionable, but that’s not an excuse to close ourselves off from engaging with the art.”

Abi Hulick, a sophomore at Boston University, said the conversation served to remind her that the classroom isn’t a “vacuum” — it’s an open environment, subject to all the forces of political and social change. But she also said she may not have wanted to financially support Mr. Díaz by buying his book, and was relieved when the teacher sent out a PDF.

References

  1. ^ abusive behavior toward women (www.theatlantic.com)

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