The Equity and Social Justice Reading Group

By Alex Phelps

When Jason Courtmanche and Kiedra Taylor found out that the Equity and Social Justice Reading group would no longer be hosted by the NEAG department, they along with some students took it upon themselves to continue the reading group. Since they started the group they have grown from five to a group of eight students and faculty. This year they have decided to focus on the ten most banned books in schools. These books range from a variety of topics, but are usually focused on racial issues or sexuality. Many of the books that the group are reading were banned as a result of many schools banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory. For the uninitiated, Critical Race Theory is the idea that the existence of race is something that we have created as a society and that this idea has become embedded in our legal system. This has become a large topic of debate within the United States, recently becoming an important factor in the election for the Governor of Virginia, where the winner Glenn Youngkin pledged that schools in Virginia would not teach the theory to their students. Due to this and many other similar decisions in states and schools around the country, many books that have similar ideas or themes to Critical Race Theory have been banned in schools. 

One of the books that they read this semester is All American Boys by Brendan Keily and Jason Reynolds, which delves into many different social issues within the United States, focusing primarily on race and police brutality. All American Boys is written by two authors, one white and one black. Each author narrates a different side of the story and delves into the perspectives that people on opposite sides of a police brutality incident have. Given the material that the book is covering it is no surprise that many schools would ban it. Regardless, the book provides insight to many on what it is like not only to be on the receiving side of police brutality, but also what it is like for people who are close to those who have committed police brutality. Kiedra when asked about reading this and other banned books said, “folks all over the country are worried that educators aim to convince white children that it’s not okay to be white or that because they are white they should feel somewhat responsible for past racial trauma. The truth of the matter is that the books that we read grapple with realistic, timely social issues that may participate in helping young people understand who they are and how they fit into a very conservative view of what it means to be American.” For many people It is difficult to understand what it is like to be on the opposite side of an issue so a book like All American Boys can provide them important insight about these different perspectives. 

One of the benefits of the Equity and Social Justice Reading Group is that not only do the members read thought provoking books, but they are given an opportunity to talk to other students and faculty members about the issues presented in the books. Kiedra said of this, “This group helped me to see that it’s not just Black and brown folks who care about these issues. It gives me so much hope because there are young teachers from diverse backgrounds who truly want to shift the current classroom paradigm.” One of the new members is Samantha Vanvalkenburg is currently working on her education degree at UConn. Samantha when asked about the group said that she has found the books to be interesting and insightful. She is grateful that is able to participate in the group even though she was a more recent member of the club and is appreciative of the conversations that she has been able to be a part of. The reading group welcomes new members who are interested in reading and discussing books dealing with equity and social justice. The group meets on Fridays every other week and interested people are encouraged to reach out to Jason Courtmanche or Kiedra Taylor.