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First-Year Student Campaigns for Equality in Literature

Mareesca Gordon '20, who is leading a campaign in her hometown to diversify the books assigned in school, plans to continue her advocacy in her new home as a member of University of New Haven community.

by Thalia Hernandez ’17 M.A.
Graduate Assistant, Office of Marketing and Communications

Photo courtesy of Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media

It was early on in her high school career that Mareesca Gordon ’20 began to notice an ongoing trend occurring in her English classes. Many of the books she was assigned to read, she felt, portrayed a negative depiction of African Americans or undermined the contributions they made to society.

“High school classrooms barely give any thought to African American literature unless it was from the role of a slave,” she said. “It is as if African Americans have not gone on to accomplish more.”

Gordon, a political science major, who joined the University of New Haven community this fall, also noted that in addition to a lack of African American literature in the curriculum, there is also a lack of literature portraying women and other minority groups.

“America is a country of many different ethnic groups, yet white Europeans are the only individuals covered in our classrooms,” said Gordon.

This fueled Gordon’s passion to start a campaign in her hometown of Stamford to push for equality in the literature in the high school curriculum. With the support of her parents and members of the community, Gordon sent a letter to the town’s Board of Education encouraging the members to change the books assigned.

In her letter, she asserted that literary classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can have a damaging emotional or psychological impact on the black children reading them.

“We as black children begin to feel inadequate, lesser and, at worst, start to believe we have to work harder to be like our white counterparts,” said Gordon. “I believe that the miseducation of all races in America has created this sphere of discrimination that our country is currently facing.”

As part of her letter, she suggested several books and authors she believed should be incorporated into high school reading lists, including And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou and Annie Allen, a book of poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Gordon, who aspires to attend law school and to pursue a future in politics, plans to continue her advocacy in her new home as a member of University of New Haven community.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to express my beliefs and to pursue this campaign – and other future campaigns that I have in mind – in a welcoming environment,” she said.