“Renegade Readers” gather for a read-in

Kennedy Gotham

Sophie Young, Reporter

A crowd gathered in a Taylor Hall classroom, pulling up extra chairs to make room for students, professors,

Attendees present some of the books they plan to read during the event. (Matthew Brown)

staff, children, parents – all united for Kent State’s first read-in.

Stephanie Smith, associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism, walked up to the microphone as the crowd fell to a low buzz. In her signature glasses and a statement tee supporting Ukraine, she welcomed the range of “renegade readers.”

“You have lived long enough to have reading be a revolutionary act of resistance,” Smith said.

Smith introduced her colleague, Paul Haridakis, Director of the School of Communication Studies. He spoke of the history of banned and challenged books leading up to the Supreme Court decision on Island Trees School District v. Pico. The case featured a school board removing books from the library, which students protested.

The majority decision in favor of the students read “local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”

Haridakis continued, referencing the introduction of legislation like Ohio’s HB 327, which he said is “designed to ban the teaching and presentation of materials that include what the legislators deemed to be divisive content.” He encouraged readers to think for themselves, to consider how far restrictions should go.

First to read was Joan Inderhees, visual communication design professor and fan of picture books.

“We enter stories to learn about other people,” Inderhees said, juggling a copy of Persepolis and the microphone.

Many readers clutched different copies of the same battered paperbacks: Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird. Quotes from these classic stories were interrupted with impassioned deliveries of new favorites – titles tackling social justice and equality like “The 1619 Project”  and “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”

Professor Roseann “Chic” Canfora reads a segment of “The Catcher in the Rye.” (Matthew Brown)

Akii Butler is a recent Kent graduate, a representative of the Ohio Student Association, and a reader. He shared from “Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World.” Although “it hasn’t been banned yet,” the book helped him to empathize with his mother — a woman who raised four Black children. Butler’s work as a representative includes advocating for his position against HB 616 and HB 327.

Belinda Boon didn’t bring a book, just a stapled paper, 16 years of experience in the School of Information and time as a librarian. She read from the American Library Association’s “Freedom to Read Statement,” which was originally created during the Red Scare in the 1950’s.

“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy,” Boon recited, finishing to loud applause.

More and more readers presented their favorite quotes, lines from tablets or paperbacks. The last to go was the leader herself. Smith finished with an irreverent quote from “Catcher in the Rye,” a coming of age story she said saved her life.

“I think we have a lot of devoted readers and people who care about freedom, like me,” Smith said.

Sophie Young is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].