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Georgetown libraries remove dozens of novels that offend some students

Publication that complained says it ‘does not support censorship in any form’

When the staff at an “independent journal of politics and world affairs” complain to Georgetown University officials, they get results.

Administrators removed “all but a few books” from the McCarthy and Reynolds libraries after The Georgetown Review asked why they had so many books marked by “racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, fetishization, and pedophilia,” the publication reported in early February. The story was picked up last week by The Hoya.

Review staff came across the books, which appear to be all 20th century novels, while attending a “general body meeting” of the campus political satire group The Hilltop Show in McCarthy Library last month.

A Hilltop staffer soon “found more problematic books” in Reynolds Library, “portraying Christianity and the Priesthood as evil.” (The article notes that Hilltop’s “Research Team” contributed to the report.)

Only two books are identified by name in the article body: Cherokee, which contains “blatantly racist language degrading Native Americans,” and Death of an Informer. The article is bylined by Editors-in-Chief Jacob Adams and Justin Drewer.

Both libraries were designated as “social and study spaces” when the Southwest Quad was built in 2003 and have no formal checkout system, McCarthy Hall Community Director Danielle Melidona told the Review. The originals were donated by an alum, while “students have contributed to the libraries by donating their old books for various classes or personal collections” since then.

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While emphasizing that the Review “does not support censorship in any form,” the publication makes clear that it expected the university to remove books that are “problematic,” a subjective term the report uses six times. Staffers literally judged the books by their covers:

But upon first encountering the books, we documented nearly forty of the most problematic ones, predicting they would clear the library when questioned.  Keep in mind, except for one book (the last in the series pictured at the end of this article—Death of an Informer), the offensive content was surmised from just the books’ front and back covers.

That’s right – the report admits that staff didn’t look inside any of the books that offended them except Death of an Informer, because they couldn’t figure out if it was offensive by its cover (“we flipped to a random page replete with racial slurs and sexually-explicit content”).

The report reprints the covers of many of the books that offended staff, suggesting that the terms “red man” and “squaw” were what bothered them in Cherokee, which was published in 1957.

Several novels by Don Tracy, Carter Brown, Nick Carter and the writing duo Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy are on the Review‘s offensive list, as well as a novel by the late English writer Kingsley Amis. They often include seductive women, foreigners or both. Nearly 40 novels are depicted.

The publication then had the gall to accuse administrators of going too far in removing books from the two libraries before its staff could find more “problematic” books, and as the headline emphasizes, leading a “cover-up”:

Clearly, some person or persons in some agency of the university heard of the books via our outreach emails and swept the books under the rug, or rather into oblivion.  It is equally fascinating and reprehensible that the Georgetown bureaucracy can mobilize to remove hundreds of books that were sitting undetected for nearly twenty years in the span of an afternoon, but they turn a blind eye to other equally-real problems.

Report authors Adams and Drewer – who make clear that as “two Republican men” they are not eager to “jump on the bandwagon of due-process-less, social justice trigger-happiness” – can’t even keep straight what they are criticizing administrators for doing.

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After complaining that administrators removed books on “ROTC programs in the 1940s, paralegal instructional guides, and golf puns,” Adams and Drewer complained that they made distinctions in what they took:

Also, to note, they did not simply clear the shelves of all the books; they sorted through the books and only took the problematic ones, requiring more time, planning, and effort.

Hilltop staffer Alexandra Bowman, who contributed to the article and posed with the books, told the Hoya that the “serialized books, most published in the mid-20th century,” had “pornographic, racially derogatory themes.”

They expected “the removal of the books” when they asked administrators to explain their presence in the two libraries, Bowman said, while also criticizing the university for responding “the wrong way”:

“While some were simply raucous crime noir murder mysteries representative of the literary and cultural time in which they were written, other books included extremely problematic and damaging elements, including the glamorization of rape, including that of underage girls,” Bowman wrote. “Completely naked women of all races were frequently featured on these books’ covers. [Fact-check “frequently” for yourself.] Further, many books fetishized young nonwhite women.”

A spokesperson told the Hoya the university “led an investigation into the content of both libraries’ collections” following outreach from the crack research team at the Hilltop and Review. The Residential Life team removed books whose “titles, topics, and images … raised concerns for students and staff.”

The Hoya itself was worried how readers might react to a story about offensive books. It put a trigger warning at the top of the story for “racist and sexist content” and offered contacts for campus health and counseling services at the bottom.

Read the Review and Hoya reports.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.