On The Topic of Romance Novels

The erasure of representative characters from assigned stories and assignments that aren’t inclusive dishearten minoritized youth.

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By: Sophie Reznick (’20)
First-Year Tutor

When I was little I loved to read. I would stay up far later than I should’ve reading in the dull lamplight on my bed. As I grew older the books I was reading grew up as well, my interests would always shine through what I was reading; from Junie B. Jones to Dear Dumb Diary, those characters developed just as I was. But there was always a disconnect with me and that main character, always something missing when I was reading that made it hard for me to relate. All of these characters had their high school crushes and practically modeled for me what they should be like, but I never liked any of that. I never liked boys at all. I thought I was weird. I thought something was wrong with me, and I wanted to keep that a secret. I would pretend to have crushes on all of these (unfortunate) boys, yet never explore why I got butterflies in my stomach every time one particular girl would sit near me during our reading circle at school.

The lack of LGBTQ+ characters in literature creates a disconnect between the reader and the story, and makes it hard for some to really develop an interest. A common motto throughout many writing centers is, “Any student, Any project, Any stage” (Reich). This motto touches on the idea of acceptance, and in a way paints the Writing Center as a safe space. But we don’t need something that touches on the idea of acceptance, and we don’t want it to merely paint a picture of the Writing Center as a safe space. It should be known fact that anyone of any race, sexuality, and belief can walk through those doors and be embraced for who they are. 

Academics are supposed to help students grow their minds in healthy and productive ways. The erasure of characters from stories that are representative of all students is already disheartening for anyone, but the fact that there are even assignments that fall more towards the discriminatory side than inclusive makes the assignments counterproductive. As an LGBTQ+ youth, I found some of my growth stunted while being given assignments that always fell towards the heteronormative side. Teachers constantly would poke fun at me when I found a joke that a male peer said funny, asking me to stay focused on my schoolwork and not “silly boys, regardless of how cute they may be.” Teachers with these mindsets assigning work to students can be detrimental. “Empathic Tutoring in the Third Space” by Nancy Effinger Wilson and Keri Fitzgerald gives a vivid example of a university student coming in for help on his paper, when presenting the assignment the struggle is more deeply ingrained with the concept of the assignment and less with the academic side. The student was asked to find women from articles that he found attractive; yet he was not attracted to anyone of the opposite sex. The overwhelming examples of a disconnect between students and academic reading materials is saddening, and is yet another example of the dire need for inclusivity in academic settings, like that of the Writing Center. 

When reading a novel in a classroom setting, the characters and settings in the books are in need of an update. Enough of these heteronormative characters, and that is implied in every meaning of the word. Not only their sexuality, but their lifestyles. Their lifestyles of white skin and privilege, a mother and a father, a home with food that they know will be there everyday, enough of these assumptions being shoved down student’s throats on a day to day basis. Enough of writing a pretty motto and calling it a day. There will only be inclusivity for all when it is everybody on board, checking their privilege, checking in with each other, and opening their minds to the world around them. And we can start that trend here, in our very own Writing Center.

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