Assigned readings: Helpful or harmful?

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Brooklyn Kelley

Minds are much like bodies — what we put in them matters. In a college setting, this can be difficult to control, especially when assigned readings have so much to do with a grade in a course.

Assigned readings, while helpful in some capacity when conveying information to students, can potentially contain material that can pollute young minds. As of now, there is often no way to opt-out.

While it is difficult to have a criteria for appropriate readings, especially at the college level, there are certain topics that are traumatic, graphic and harmful to certain students. These students shouldn’t have to be silent as they read these pieces just to get a passing grade.

There is a fine line between being uncomfortable with new information and consuming information that negatively affects you. This comes into play when there is no discussion following reading the material about its flaws, or when a student has tried to read the material but is too bothered by it to continue.

Learning and growing is uncomfortable at times, but something a student deems immoral shouldn’t be infiltrated into their curriculum, especially when there is no alternative option to the specific reading.

Having a way to escape from being forced to read certain material would be beneficial to students’ sense of responsibility, their consciousness of what’s going into their mind and their minds in general.

In the case of readings that are against students’ morals or conscience, they should be given the right to defend their thoughts and, if legitimate concern is shown and justified, given another assignment in its place.

One of the most challenging parts of college for me so far has been having to read a book with graphic sexual scenes and write discussion posts on it for the class with specific examples. I didn’t feel that this was appropriate, and I didn’t want it on the forefront of my mind.

While I was able to defend my views on the discussion board, that didn’t stop me from having to read the book in order to get a good grade. If I could have, I would’ve stopped reading the book, stated my opinion on the discussion board and never picked up the book again. However, this wasn’t an option.

Forcing students to read material that could be against their religious or moral convictions is not helping them to branch out, but rather instilling ideas in them that they have likely fought hard against in other settings. This also opens the door for a potentially more unethical society in the future.

For example, if assigned readings justify forceful intimate acts, students will either consciously or unconsciously deem that appropriate. Then, they are desensitized to the travesty happening.

In a way, reading about perverse things makes people who are struggling with the same issue complacent; it confirms that someone else is like them, so they don’t need to fix their behavior. Though this is likely not the intention of the professor who assigned the material, the effects are happening nonetheless.

Instead of having mandatory reading materials with no flexibility, professors should allow students to fill out a form, talk to them or present to their classmates why they feel a reading assignment is inappropriate.

With this approach, students are both given the opportunity to protect their minds from information they deem harmful while also building up communication and critical thinking skills.

No matter the medium through which they solve this issue, the professor’s effort to solve the problem truly does matter to students. Knowing that their professor cares about what they care about creates a bond that allows for a stronger learning environment.

Replacing the reading with another that does not violate the student’s moral standards can also be enlightening to the professor in that they may see that their perspective when assigning that material may be distorted, in addition to helping the student.

Having the option to have a different assignment than the specified reading in some classes would have cut down on the amount of distress I have felt when completing assignments related to the reading and eliminate the inkling of disdain I had every time I participated in certain courses.

For myself and many other students, having a way to express our moral values by objecting to specific topics in assigned readings could make college a better experience overall.