Universities admit purge of ‘challenging’ books to protect students

Elizabeth McGregor, 22, who studied the module this year, told The Times: “We have been told a few times that we can choose whether or not to read texts, often when the themes are about race, slavery or gender … They think we are children and are coddling us.”

The University of Essex said it encouraged “open and frank discussions in our seminars” and this included “convening difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations”.

A spokesperson added: “It is completely untrue and misleading to say Underground Railroad has been banned or blacklisted. Underground Railroad is available in our library and remains an option for inclusion on future reading lists in relevant modules. 

“Books covering themes and issues around slavery are on the reading lists for many other modules.  

“Underground Railroad was replaced on one reading list for a creative writing module about the development of the novel, as another book was viewed as better suited to the learning aims.”

The University of Sussex said in its FOI response that Miss Julie had been “permanently withdrawn” from the reading list because students had complained about its “psychological” and “emotional effects”.

In the play, the character Jean threatens to commit suicide out of love of Miss Julie. She is later handed a razor by Jean when she also expresses a wish to kill herself.

The play is studied at A-level and is regularly performed throughout the country.

A spokeswoman for Sussex told The Times its response to the FOI was incorrect and the removal of the text from the reading list was only temporary.

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