Central York student speaks on panel hosted by national human rights organization

·3 min read

Central York student Olivia Pituch Wednesday night spoke alongside a variety of prominent authors, such as Neil Gaiman, George M. Johnson and Ashley Hope Pérez, on a panel titled "Fighting Book Bans: A Teach-In For Student Activists and Their Allies."

The panel was organized PEN America, a nonprofit promoting free expression through literature. They brought in the frequently challenged authors as well as students fighting literature censorship in their schools. Students from other schools fighting censorship in Southlake, Texas and North Kansas, Missouri were brought on as well.

The discussion focused on tactics for fighting book censorship in school districts and addressing why some authors' works are banned.

Johnson, who authored "All Boys Aren't Blue," a book about growing up as a queer black man that has received heat from some school boards, said many of the arguments for why his work should be banned are taken out of context.

(From left) Central York High School students Zachary Smith, Alicia Le, Olivia Pituch and Ava Forrey look at a spread of dozens of books that are on the district's banned resources list during a protest outside the Central York School District Educational Service Center on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in Springettsbury Township.
(From left) Central York High School students Zachary Smith, Alicia Le, Olivia Pituch and Ava Forrey look at a spread of dozens of books that are on the district's banned resources list during a protest outside the Central York School District Educational Service Center on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in Springettsbury Township.

"It's easy to prove the fact that most of the people who are trying to ban these books are not reading the entire book, so they're pulling these quotes out of context," Johnson said. "Literally every single school board meeting, every single attempt to ban the book is pulling the same two paragraphs. And so when you think about it, you're taking literally just two small pieces of a book and trying to then make that the catalyst of your argument."

Pituch is a member of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, which has been making waves since they started protesting a resource list ban implemented by the Central York School District in August, which prevented use of many black and brown authors' works in classrooms. The ban was reversed in September.

Pituch spoke about the protests that occurred over the fall, and the book drive at which thousands of the banned books were distributed in a matter of minutes.

"There's times where you feel like you won't make a difference, or there's times you feel like you're failing, but something that's really helped me keep momentum is seeing how these little things that we do impact the community," Pituch said. "When we had our second community protest we had around 300 people show up, possibly more, and it was beautiful to see the community come together under cause of diversity... It's those moments like that that really help keep me going."

More: These are the books and other resources banned by the Central York School Board

More: Central York school board votes unanimously to rescind book ban: 'It has taken far too long'

The Panther Anti-Racist Union has been gaining national and local traction, with group president Edha Gupta being chosen as a "Voice of the Year" by Seventeen Magazine, the union being awarded the Change Maker award from the York Economic Alliance, and tons of national coverage.

"Something that us younger people have been told all of our lives is that we can't make a difference or our voice doesn't have impact, we're too young to do this, we're too young to know that," Pituch said. "Our voices were the ones who brought national attention, international attention to our story and we caused the temporary reversal of the ban. We're helping mobilize these changes. So our voices really, really do matter."

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Central York book ban discussion with PEN America on censorship