Making Sense of Censorship on the Stage and in the Scholarly Realm

Source: The Maine Campus – By Sarah Mann

Delectating in a moment of self-reflection in the Memorial Union, I was disturbed by the presence of a peppy, sweatshirted girl who wanted my friend and I to fill out a survey.

I took it begrudgingly, expecting yet another “where do your political affections lie” questionnaire, but was surprised to find otherwise.

The survey asked a series of questions about censorship — whether we students could speak our minds in classrooms; if professors could; if the newspaper could; if we feared negative consequences from university administration or grade docking if we did so, etc.

Now this was interesting. I tucked in and answered as best as I could, but it got me thinking. I felt transported back to high school when that first cool teacher dropped a swear word in class. We were all so shocked, awed and excited.

He instantly became the teacher of my favorite class just for saying “s—” out loud.

I ran home and even told my parents, which in hindsight was a strange idea, and they reacted as one would expect — with fear for my teacher’s job.

“He can’t go around saying whatever he wants to impressionable children, he’ll be sacked,” my parents mused.

But he never was, because we students held a pact. We possessed a silent agreement to protect Mr. So-and-So, as long as he kept delivering the hilarious.

In university, that line is erased. We are all above the R-rated-movie age and now anything seems fair game in a classroom scenario. Professors make sex jokes and throw the F-bomb around. I even had one professor use the ever-frightening, but infinitely effective, C-word on the second day of class.

But there are still boundaries. The survey didn’t ask if your psychology professor was allowed to spew profanities when discussing his day. They didn’t even ask if sex talk in the classroom was taboo. The survey wanted to know whether, if your opinions differed from those of the university, you would be willing to suffer the consequences.

I thought of my first English course at DePaul University. A balding blond man stumbled into class 20 minutes late, panting from the stairs, to say his first word to his newest class: “Balls.”

He wheezed and then added, “Is this on the fifth floor? Jesus,” and undid his tie. He was known as Dr. Scott, a name that inspired Rocky Horror murmurs all around.

The first student to make a grammatical error recieved “Get-out-of-my-classroom-before-I-set-your-hair-on-fire” for a grade. He may not have offended Dr. Scott’s political views, but he offended his religion: The Great Church of Strunk and White.

Dr. Scott went on to startle us a few more times. An outraged parent’s cry of “How dare you fail my kid!” was met with the well-witnessed “How dare you raise a s—-y kid.”

We all stifled gasps. This was beyond the realm of college-aged-appropriate topics. This was war. How do you dodge his bombs when you just want an “A”? That’s the kind of censorship I thought of — the censoring of the student’s natural defense mechanisms.
That’s a large part of what you have to throw out the window to survive at the university. All of the acting classes worth taking involve a staggering degree of personal confession, followed by a lot of badgering to go even further.

The students in these classes, some of the most fiercely loyal you’ll ever meet, have a pact, too. Not unlike our protection of Mr. So-and-So, here they protect each other. No confession, no matter how startling, leaves those classrooms. The students divulge their darkest moments at the request of a professor and have to trust it won’t be used against them off of the stage.

But here’s the real kicker: If you can’t defend yourself using your natural instincts against the demands of professors, isn’t that just another kind of censorship?

I came across a question on the survey: “Do you believe that you can say what you really feel without negative consequences?” The use of “feel” caught my eye. What we feel? No, I don’t.

Here, there, everywhere, you can’t say what you feel without negative consequences, but that’s half the fun.

Maybe I feel like saying an offensive swear. Maybe I feel like protecting my ego. Maybe I feel like standing up for myself when a teacher says, “Get out of my classroom before I set your hair on fire,” by firing back, “Hell no.”

These will all get the same negative reaction, but people will get to know you bit by bit.

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2 comments on “Making Sense of Censorship on the Stage and in the Scholarly Realm
  1. […] Making Sense of Censorship on the Stage and in the Scholarly Realm (censorshipinamerica.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Finance says:

    Might be your best piece of writing to date..

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