Reclaiming Life

Anne Parsons

Reclaiming Life: The Post-WWII experience of Displaced Jews

Thesis and Outline

A lesser known part of WWII is the displacement camps of post-war Europe, but these
camps played a significant role in Jewish history. This significance stems from the revival of lost
Jewish culture that emerged, as well as the Jewish migration to Palestine that gained support and
movement within the camps.
I. Background information on displacement camps in Europe
A. Inside the displacement camps
B. Purpose of displacement camps
II. Revival of Jewish culture in the camps
A. Family life
1. Marriage
2. Childbirth
B. Popular Culture
1. Activism
2. Jewish Activities
3. Vocational Training
III. Jewish support and migration to Palestine
A. Zionism movement
B. Education in DP camps
C. Immigration

There is a sigh of relief across the globe. On September 2, 1945 the Japanese surrendered
to the Allies, which marked the official closing of World War II. The ending credits rolled. But
what did “the war is over” really mean? The suffering and persecution that was present in the
war-torn countries was just as prevalent on September 3rd. And September 4th. And the 5th. The
official end of World War II was a day of celebration, but those who were most intimately
involved were faced with a new war: a war of reconstruction. One way this war of reconstruction
was shown is through the European displacement camps, where desperate victims of the war
found refuge until they could be relocated. The displacement camps became home to a large
portion of the Jewish Holocaust victims. These camps are a lesser-known part of WWII, but they
played a significant role in Jewish history. This significance stems from the revival of lost Jewish
culture that emerged, as well as the Jewish migration to Palestine that gained support and
movement within the camps.

Displacement Camps

Those who have studied World War II know all about the suffering of Jews in the Nazi-
ruled concentration camps, but the Jews continued to suffer long after the camps were evacuated and the survivors were liberated. A year after the war ended, there were about 250,000 Jewish people in Europe who were classified as displaced people (Greenfeld 76). A quarter of a million
Jews, as well as millions of other individuals who were affected by the war, needed somewhere
to go. This need was addressed by the creation of displacement camps (DP camps) across
Europe. These displacement camps were set up in Germany, Austria, and Italy by the United
Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (“Displaced”).
War results in destruction. Destruction of homes, families, and lives. That being said, the
reason for displacement camps went beyond the physical destruction of houses and communities.

Many Jewish people refused to return to their pre-war homes because of the antisemitism that
still existed there (“Aftermath”). While the Jews were no longer contained in barbed wire fences,
many of them still lived in fear after the war. This fear was justified; in Kielce, Poland in 1946
there was an anti-Jewish riot that resulted in the murder of 42 Jews (“Aftermath”). 42 Jews were
killed as the rest of the world celebrated the end of a grueling war. Jewish hatred wasn’t bred and
killed off in the concentration camps as researcher Howard Greenfeld pointed out: “[The Jews’]
former neighbors all too frequently blamed them for the outbreak of the war and lamented the
fact that the Germans had not done a thorough job of eliminating them” (56). These examples,
among others, show the harsh truth that antisemitism was still alive in Europe after the war.
That’s why Hitler’s “Final Solution” stayed alive for so long. It wasn’t simply Hitler who hated
Jews– there was a discrimination against Jewish people deeply embedded throughout Europe
(“Jewish”). Because of the fear and violence that the Jews faced after the war, it was crucial that
they had a place to take sanctuary.

Revival of Lost Jewish Culture

The atrocious events of the Holocaust left Jewish people with nothing. They lost their
belongings, they lost their lives, and they lost their identities. The displacement camps were all
about taking back power. The camps were the first time in a long time where the Jews were able
to openly celebrate and revive their culture. One way this was shown was through the vast
number of weddings that took place in the camps. In the German DP camps in 1946 there were
weddings on a daily basis (Feinstein 72). Hagit Lavsky, an expert on Jewish history, stated this
about marriage in the DP camps: “Most couples decided to be married in a Jewish wedding
ceremony. It was not just a question of being religious. Even for the secular, it meant forming a
new link with the past, overcoming the disaster and continuing the family chain, being Jewish and keeping and manifesting the Jewish tradition” (“Camp”). Weddings were not only a symbol of love and unity between two people, but in the displacement camps they became a symbol that
Jewish tradition was still alive.
Another impactful aspect of the DP camps was the increased birth rate. The DP camps
were incredibly important to Jewish history because they produced an important increase in
Jewish population, as the Holocaust resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews. The
birth rates in the camps were some of the highest rates in the world during the time (“Return”).
This heightened birth rate became more than a number within the camps: “The Nazis had
murdered Jewish children, so procreation became a symbol of liberation from Nazi tyranny”
(Feinstein 72). The displacement camps became a place to engage in marriage and begin a new
generation of Jews. Both of these rights were taken away, or made incredibly difficult, during the
war. The displacement camps gave the Jews a chance to start the process of taking their lives
back, one marriage–and one child–at a time.
Because of the loss of rights that Jews experienced during WWII, the activism that rose
in the DP camps stood as another confirmation of cultural rejuvenation. Just as marriage and
childbirth stood as a symbol of Jewish liberation, the DP camps became a place where the Jews
could fight for what they believed in. A young Jewish Holocaust survivor named Alan
remembered that he, along with other displaced people, would complain about the food rations
within the camp. He revealed that he didn’t think the complaining stemmed from the fact that
there wasn’t enough food to keep them well fed, but more so from the fact that they had any food
restrictions whatsoever (Greenfeld 78). Without the threat of being killed in the DP camps,
which was very present in the concentration camps, the Jewish people were able to speak up for what they saw as basic human rights. The Jewish voice could once again be heard. They were fighting back.
This voice transformed into action within some of the camps. In the Bergen-Belsen DP
camp there was a hunger strike among the Jews until the camp provided kosher food, which is a
requirement of Jewish law (Feinstein 78). The participating Jews of Bergen-Belsen would not
budge, despite the efforts of others. Researcher Maragarete Feinstein explains, “They refused to
eat the food even after one of the rabbis attempted to persuade them that the food was
permissible under Jewish law for health reasons” (78). There is power in the fact that these
Jewish activists chose to do a hunger strike, as opposed to other forms of protest they could have
effectively done. One forceful tactic in the Holocaust concentration camps was extreme food
limitations on the Jewish prisoners. The survivors in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp chose to utilize
what was once used against them to their own advantage. They took control of their food intake–
something that was taken away from them in a heinous way during their imprisonment.
Another important cultural aspect that emerged in the DP camps was the return of leisure
activities and Jewish productions. It was in the camps that Jewish kids could learn skills like
riding a bike and swimming (Greenfeld 88). In the Landsberg camp there was a theater, a radio
station, and a camp newspaper (88). These activities gave Jews the opportunity to express
themselves as people with their own language, thoughts, and stories. It gave Jewish teenagers a
chance to experience childhood activities– living a childhood that was stolen from them during
the years of war. In Blankenese, a German DP camp, the children could take music lessons and
engage in community singing (91). These activities gave the Jews a chance to bond and create a
camp community. Jewish communities were destroyed both physically and culturally during the
Holocaust, and it was in the DP camps that feelings of unification could return.

While leisure activities were popular in the camps, a large portion of time and energy was
spent on education. In the Fohrenwald DP camp, older students would spend half of their day on
vocational training (Greenfeld 99). Skills like sewing and knitting were taught (Feinstein 83),
and there were many training courses available to prepare students for different occupations such
as carpentry, nursing, and mechanics (Greenfeld 86). Learning these skills was important for
Jews because they were able to catch up on educational opportunities they didn’t have during the
duration of the war, and it prepared many Jewish people to get back on their own two feet.
Beyond the practical purpose of vocational training, it also aided individuals in other ways: “The
skill itself appears to have been less important than the awakening sense of self-worth that
vocational training provided” (Feinstein 83). Learning different skills in the camps promoted
Jewish cultural values of confidence and independence. Feeling as though they were part of a
community, and had something to add to that community, was a strengthening aspect of the
Jewish experience in DP camps.

Jewish Migration to Palestine

The DP camps throughout Europe differed in many ways, but one thing that was constant
in all the camps was a strong Jewish support of Zionism (Schein). Zionism was a “movement to
return to the Jewish homeland in what was then British controlled Palestine” (“Displaced”). One
eyewitness in the DP camps stated that Palestine was the first choice for immigration among the
majority of displaced Jews (Harrison). This growing support of Zionism within the DP camps came as a result of many different factors, including the fact that Jews were separated from non- Jews in the camps, and educated in a way that produced Jewish nationalism.

While the displacement camps started out as a jumbled mix of different nationalities,
many camps ended up finding a way to separate the Jews from everyone else. This was for two main reasons–antisemitism and public outcry. For example, the Fohrenwald camp was originally a camp for Poles, Hungarians, and a mix of many other people and nationalities. It eventually
became an exclusively Jewish camp after the Jews were faced with aggression from non-Jews
(Greenfeld 99). The second factor that led to the separation of Jews in DP camps took hold when
Earl G. Harrison, an American government worker, went to Europe to assess how the Jews were
doing in the camps. His report was appalling: “Many of the Jewish displaced persons, late in
July, had no clothes other than their concentration camp garb– a rather hideous striped pajama
effect, while others, to their chagrin, were obliged to wear German SS uniforms” (Harrison 5).
The Harrison report became a testament that the treatment of Jews in the DP camps had to
change. The Holocaust put Jews in a unique position, and the horrific oppression that they
endured justified their right to be separated from their persecutors. Jews were placed in former
concentration camps that had been transformed into DP camps, and some were even forced to
live side-by-side their former enemies (Greenfeld 71). Harrison publicly condemned this
treatment of Jews in the camps and declared that being Jewish needed to be seen as a separate
status in the camps: “Refusal to recognize the Jews as such has the effect, in this situation, of
closing one’s eyes to their former and more barbaric persecution, which has already made them a
separate group with greater needs.” Harrison’s convincing letter to the US President affected
American policies and involvement in the DP camps, and the world began to follow Harrison’s
guidance and recognize Jews as a national category (Brenner). This recognition set the stage for
the encouragement and acceptance of a Jewish state within Palestine.
This separation of Jews from non-Jews in the displacement camps changed the entire DP
experience for Jews. Because some of the camps were all-Jewish, it gave Jewish culture a better
chance to survive and thrive. The mass murdering of Jews during the Holocaust put Jewish population and culture at an extreme risk, and it wasn’t until the DP camps that the damage began to heal, and a Jewish community could rise. One important aspect of this was the pride
and Jewish nationalism that emerged. During WWII anything surrounding Jews was seen as
undesirable, this negativity coming from the antisemitism entrenched in Europe. The Holocaust
blatantly stated that to be a Jew meant death. In the all-Jewish DP camps, this definition could
change. The Jewish people could finally be proud of their culture and religion because they were
put in a space that allowed them to be with others who came from a similar background. Many
cultural aspects of the DP camps inspired this Jewish pride and nationalism, including theater.
Summarizing the effects of Jewish theatrical plays: “the experiences of the ghettos and
concentration camps were processed and the dream of Eretz Israel [a Jewish state] was given
expression” (“Return”). As stated, the DP camps became a place where Jewish culture could
thrive, but it also became a place where the dream of a separate Jewish state was alive and hoped
for. Naturally, the Jews in the displacement camps would want to preserve the community and
sense of security that they had finally grasped.
The education that Jewish people received in the camps also promoted this Jewish pride.
One formerly displaced person named George lived in the Blankenese DP camp and recalled this
about his education: “They taught us Hebrew (classes were taught in this language), they taught
us the history of Jewry, and they taught us, they trained us for illegal immigration […] to
Palestine” (Greenfeld 92). In DP schools, Jews were taught their own history and openly
practiced their own culture– a luxury that had been unavailable during the war. A Zionist
Women’s group in Landsberg received a similar education where the “major emphasis was on
cultural and ideological activities” (Shein). These activities, almost identical to George’s
experience, focused on Hebrew, Zionist history, and Jewish history (Shein). The Jews in DP camps were educated towards a common goal: reviving their people. Not all Jews saw this goal as a possibility in the blood-soaked countries of the Holocaust, and so the migration period out of
the DP camps began.
The ambition to leave Europe was present, but the restrictive and complex immigration
laws left many displaced people at the start of a seemingly endless process. Earl G. Harrison
played a noteworthy part in adapting the immigration laws surrounding displaced Jews. He
heavily supported the Jewish migration to Palestine and made this compelling statement in his
report: “The main solution, in many ways the only real solution, of the problem lies in the quick
evacuation of all non-repatriable Jews in Germany and Austria, who wish it, to Palestine […].
The civilized world owes it to this handful of survivors to provide them with a home where they
can settle down and begin to live as human beings” (Harrison). U.S. President Harry Truman
responded to this report in two significant ways. First, he worked to change the U.S. immigration
laws. While he wasn’t able to allow the amount of Jewish DP’s into America that he originally
desired, he made major strides in getting rid of quotas that favored individuals from specific
European countries that didn’t have large populations of displaced Jews (Reicher 21). President
Truman also wrote to the current Prime Minister of Great Britain and encouraged him to issue
100,000 immigrant certificates to Palestine (17). While the Prime Minister denied Truman’s
recommendation, the pressure from the U.S. may have affected the impending decision that
Britain made to authorize the United Nations to handle the issue, and the UN ultimately decided
to create a Jewish state within Palestine (19). The conditions of the DP camps ended up having
far-reaching effects, as Harrison’s publicized report led to changes in the immigration laws that
affected where the displaced Jews were relocated, as well as effectively putting pressure on
Great Britain to allow the Jews to come into Palestine.

Despite President Truman’s efforts, immigration to Palestine (before the partition) was
still limited and difficult for displaced Jews. Illegal immigration became common and was
organized and executed through the displacement camps. Because the DP camps had large
groups of Jews who supported Zionism, it made the organization of groups easier. This
movement of Jewish refugees into Palestine is called Aliyah Bet. Aliyah Bet worked out of the
DP camps through a network called Brihah, and Jewish DPs were organized into groups and
attempted to flee to Palestine on ships. While the majority of the Brihah ships were stopped by
the British navy, the efforts of Aliyah Bet transferred a number of desperate Jews into Palestine
(“Aliyah”). Between 1947 and 1950, around 120,000 displaced Jews had made their way to
Palestine (Brenner). The Jewish nationalism and spread of Zionism that developed in the DP
camps contributed to this massive wave of Jews entering Palestine, as well as the official
creation of a Jewish state, Israel, in 1948.
As the Jews migrated out of the camps and started to continue rebuilding their lives, the
once-displaced people slowly began to create places of their own. Not only did they find
individual homes across the world, but the recognition of Israel gave rise to a long-awaited
Jewish home. The last DP camp closed in 1959. This closed a chapter of Jewish history and the
restored culture and community that it encompassed. The displacement camps marked the end of
WWII, and the start of the war of reconstruction. The displacement camps revealed the
continuation of Jewish suffering in Europe, but they also gave Jews a chance to take back their
rights. A chance to take back their voice. A chance to take back their lives.

Works Cited

Brenner, Michael. “Displaced Persons After the Holocaust.” My Jewish Learning.
Feinstein, Maragarete M. “Jewish Women Survivors in the Displaced Persons Camps of
Occupied Germany: Transmitters of the Past, Caretakers of the Present, and Builders of
the Future.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, 2006,
pp. 67-89,
Greenfeld, Howard. After the Holocaust. Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.
Harrison, Earl G. “The Plight of the Displaced Jews in Europe: A Report to President Truman.”
American Member, Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees, New York, 1945,
New Arrivals, Displaced Persons Camp F, Germany, World War II, 1946. Displaced Persons
Camps in Post-World War II Germany, Museums Victoria Collections,

Reicher, Harry. “The Post-Holocaust World and President Harry S. Truman: The Harrison
Report and Immigration Law and Policy.”
Schein, Ada. “She’erit ha-Peletah: Women in DP Camps in Germany.” Jewish Women: A
Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive.>.
The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. “Displaced Persons Camp.”
The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. “The Return to Life in the Displaced Persons
Camps, 1945-1956.”
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Aliyah Bet.” Holocaust Encyclopedia.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Displaced Persons.” Holocaust Encyclopedia.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Jewish Life in Europe Before the Holocaust.”

Holocaust Encyclopedia.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Aftermath of the Holocaust.” Holocaust


Brick Walls or Breakthroughs

Gracie Nichols

University Safe Spaces: Brick Walls or Breakthroughs?

It began in October of 2015. Shortly before Halloween, the Intercultural Affairs
Committee at Yale University emailed a list of Halloween costumes deemed inappropriate—costumes that appropriated and caricatured cultures and religions. While the email was well-intentioned, it sparked a lengthy response from Erika Christakis—child development specialist, resident master, and student advisor—which later went viral:
“I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or
young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes,
offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a
certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly . . . they have become places
of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from
yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith . . . in your capacity
to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject
things that trouble you?” (Christakis)
Christakis questions the validity of institutionally-mandated “safe spaces”—where
students are protected from the offensive, upsetting, inappropriate, and hurtful. While institutions
need to protect their student body, what should this protection look like on a college campus, and
how can “safe spaces” coexist with intelligent discussion, expressive autonomy, and open
People have a right to express their ideals, their identities, their cultures, but often the
safe spaces on campuses are causing students to turn around and shut out others who wish to
express their ideals, their identities, their cultures. Safe spaces are valid to a point. Safe spaces
are inclusive to a point. Safe spaces are necessary to a point. Safe spaces are safe to a point.
Defining the Safe Space
But what exactly is a safe space? All controversy and debate aside, how do we even
define the concept? How did they come to be? Malcolm Harris and Emily Crockett give us the answers to these very questions. The first concepts of safe-spaces started popping up in the mid-60s during times when homosexual activity was still against the law. Bars—speakeasies—were held for gays and lesbians where they could be themselves without fear of judgment. The cops could very likely still show up, and the bar could very likely still be raided and attacked by hate groups. These people were not free from the law or free from persecution indefinitely, but in
their safe-space speakeasies they were able to feel free for a short time. Here, they “could find
practical resistance to political and social repression,” (Harris).
Soon, as feminism began to rise again in the 60s and 70s, women began to adopt safe
spaces. Instead of it solely being a place to avoid oppression, their safe spaces were also spaces
where they could openly discuss and debate how to make changes. Yes, they needed a place to
escape the oppression of the patriarchy, but they also found them as places of educating each
other on different experiences. The more they educated each other, the more they were able to
discuss informedly about how to make things better for themselves. “A safe space was not free of
internal disagreement, but it did mean a devotion to a common political project.” (Harris) They
didn’t always agree on the means, but those permitted in the safe spaces all had the same end
goal: change.
Safe spaces further developed into places of safe expression for liberal parties, for people
of color, for women, for LGBTQ+ individuals, and more. A safe space isn’t always a designated
room (although it can be). It is somewhere where you won’t have to define what Bantu knots are
(Women of Color space), or explain why your baby is having a hard time latching (breastfeeding
space), or think twice about whether you–as a man–can express affection to your boyfriend in that environment (LGBTQ+ space). Some safe spaces are officially sanctioned, like a Mommy-and-Me group or Alcoholics Anonymous. Others are completely exclusive and have prerequisites to attend, “just so that people in those groups can speak more freely about their
interests without worrying about whether others will understand what they mean.” (Crockett).
More so, some occur naturally, like black churches or salons.
Safe spaces aren’t always just about physical and mental safety. They can be places of
relaxation and comfort. When people are always on their toes, defining and clarifying and
defending, the stress hormone cortisol is constantly pumping through their body. At high levels,
it can be harmful, and the levels can be especially high “among groups of people who experience systemic discrimination like racism, which causes the fight-or-flight response to work in low-level, yet incessant, overdrive.” (Crockett) Sabrina Stevens, a black activist interviewed by Crockett, said “‘No one can live in a constant state of vigilance. Your body is not designed to do that. The need for safe spaces is the need to literally not have your adrenal system constantly firing at full tilt.'” (Crockett)
These spaces seem to have integrated themselves into our culture. From hair salons to
therapists’ offices, we can find safe spaces all over. So why is it such an issue to sanction such
spaces on college campuses, and where should the line be drawn?

Pro-Safe Space
Safe spaces are necessary places of comfort for victims to disorders, assault, illness, and
other challenges. This can be seen in Alcoholics Anonymous, cancer patient support groups,
meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist, etc. They are places of healing and recovery. Like any
physical trauma, psychological and emotional trauma heals and mends over a series of small
steps forward. Those steps cannot be taken at the pace of one just beginning to heal in an
unprotected environment. A physical therapy patient learning to walk again after surgery needs
the equipment and a therapist to help them make healthy progress and to know when to keep
pushing and when to rest.
Similarly, a victim of PTSD, sexual assault, bullying, abuse, mental illness, and so on
needs sufficient time and environments to take those baby steps in the healing process. In that
sufficient time and environment, they can know when to keep pushing and when to rest because
they are surrounded by those with similar struggles and issues. Most who ask for safe spaces on
college campuses are simply asking for assurance that they will feel secure on campus—that they
don’t need to worry about criticisms, mocking, prejudice, and so on.
Recently I attended my Psychological Science class. The lecture that day was about
psychological disorders under the umbrella of anxiety and depression. We came to a point in the
lecture where we were about to discuss suicide: statistics, causes, motivations, and prevention.
Before the discussion, the PowerPoint slide read in big red letters: “TRIGGER WARNING:
SUICIDE”. My professor very strongly believes in her students feeling not necessarily
comfortable (as some topics aren’t always peachy), but safe in class. Her class—though not
directly dubbed as such—is a safe space. Standing beside the projection on the board, she kindly
permitted anyone distressed by a discussion on suicide to leave the room if needed. She knew
there may be students who had personal experiences with this issue and wanted them to feel
recognized and safe.

Another example of effective use of safe spaces is Colorado Mesa University. This university has a Safe Space program, which “emphasizes the importance of creating a non-judgmental and non-biased space for students to have an open platform about any prejudicial concerns they may be experiencing.” (Kratsas) They also have a Green Zone policy, which
educates students and faculty on the difficulties and challenges faced by students who used to be
in the military, and how to accommodate and help those students’ struggles.
These safe spaces are created purely for the productive well-being of those involved: the
true purpose and original virtue of safe spaces. RaeAnn Pickett with TIME defends and defines
safe spaces on college campuses, saying “A critical phase of healing involves reclaiming power
and control in positive ways. Our universities should be at the vanguard of modeling the way
forward—not backward.” (Pickett)
Furthermore, Northwestern University’s president, Morton Schapiro, issued a statement
in support of safe spaces to The Washington Post in 2016. Among the commentary on safe
spaces, there is the argument that uncomfortable learning is not harmful to the students: it is
essential. Schapiro addresses this argument by saying, “students don’t fully embrace
uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that
comfort.” (Schapiro)
In other words, it’s like a pyramid. In order to progress up the pyramid of higher learning,
the members of academia must first establish a basic understanding of comfort. Of security. A
firm foundation. They must grow roots into the ground before bombarded by the winds of touchy
subjects and difficult concepts. The bottom line? Safety is the precursor to healthy discomfort.
Remember Erika Christakis? After sending her email, she and her husband Nicholas
received a lot of negative feedback from their residents. HuffPost Live conducted an interview
with resident Derwin Aikens—one of the disagreeing students. His argument was that as
masters, the Christakis’s jobs are to create a space on campus of healthy debate that takes in two
sides of an argument equally. He said, “‘The fact that her email was sent out under the
assumption that students hadn’t been speaking out all along was disrespectful.’” (Gebreyes) He
and a large population of fellow students had been speaking out about this issue for quite some
time. They felt the masters were not fulfilling their jobs because the students saw the email as an
expression of ignorance toward the cries for help they’d been voicing for quite some time. Team
safe space and anti-cultural appropriation felt heavily ignored by the referees, who seemed to be favoring team “work-it-out-yourself”. How could the masters say they were fulfilling their responsibility to provide an equal playing field when they weren’t even paying attention to both

Anti-Safe Space
While safe spaces are healthy and necessary in some cases, in other cases they can
become problematic and misleading. When they are not explained or understood correctly, they
can project the illusion that it’s okay to use derogatory and offensive language and action outside
of designated safe-spaces. In other words, if ignorant people see they absolutely cannot use those
words and actions in a designated space, they may assume that it is otherwise okay to use them
outside of that space.
They can also make those members of safe spaces—and I give this as an extreme for
simplicity—feel entitled to silencing the opposing opinion. For example, many college students
are more liberal these days, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, these safe spaces can
sometimes cause them to belittle the ideas of the minority of conservative students on campus.
Of white students on campus. Of male students on campus. Of “privileged” students on campus.
It causes them to feel entitled to kick out speakers whose ideals don’t agree with theirs.
I watch a show called Grown-Ish. It’s a spin-off of the series Black-Ish, which is a
comedy about an affluent black family. It deals with social issues in a lighthearted way without
making light of serious situations. Grown-Ish is about the family’s oldest daughter, Zoey, as she
embarks on her journey as a college freshman at a California university. Like Black-Ish the show
handles touchy issues. It focuses more on those faced by college students, including political and
social activism. Episode 11 of season 1, “Safe and Sound”, handles the debate of safe spaces.
At their university, Hawkins Hall is designated for the black student minority. The walls
are decorated with icons of black culture and history. Black students go there to study, have
parties, watch movies, and so on. They go there to feel recognized and comfortable. There is
word of Hawkins Hall being shut down, so Zoey helps her highly-activist friend Aaron organize
a protest. There is a scene in which Zoey, Aaron, their black twin friends Jazz and Sky, their
Jewish bisexual friend Nomi, and their Latina friend Ana are all helping make signs in Hawkins
Hall. Aaron is talking about the importance of the Hall to him and his fellow black students—
how it makes them as a minority feel safe, connected, and understood on campus. Nomi suggests she start a safe space for Jews, but Aaron and the twins shut that down, claiming that slavery was more oppressive than the Holocaust. Ana suggests she start a safe space for “people like her,”
and Aaron and the twins agree, assuming she means Latina women. However, when she explains
she means conservative women, Aaron claims “her people” don’t deserve a safe space because
conservatives are wrong.
These two attitudes—the attitude against Nomi and the attitude against Ana—are
examples of where things go bad in safe spaces. Aaron claims that safe spaces are for the
oppressed, but the moment other spaces are suggested, they are either disregarded on the grounds
that “those people aren’t as oppressed as mine are” or “those people are wrong.”
Let’s revisit the story of the Christakises. In the months after the email, the couple faced
criticisms from students who screamed profanities and call them disgusting. They responded
with nothing but respect, that they understood the distress from the students, but could not censor
the voices of those they didn’t agree with. The critics and stress of it all became too much. They
resigned from their roles as resident masters, and Erika resigned from her professional role at the
Ivy League as well. Nicholas remained in his teaching position. To those students at Yale, as
discussed earlier, the couple were seen as people who would not listen to them. And perhaps
there was some truth to that. Perhaps the students were speaking out and the couple were doing
nothing. However, as the couple did their best to accommodate the growth and support of all
students, the students shut them down and forced them out of their positions.
These are examples of the intolerance being accumulated in the expansion of the concept
of safe spaces.
The University of Chicago was once considered a place where faculty supported the safe
space/trigger warning ideal. However, in August of 2016, the dean of students, John Ellison,
issued a letter to the incoming freshmen. The letter states that the university never has officially
given support to these concepts. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not
support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might
prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where
individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” (Vivanco and
Ellison feared intolerance in the students at his university. He feared if they were able to
hide from opposing ideals, they would never be exposed to them, and thus would become sheltered, and the extreme viewers of their ideals, which can be dangerous. He supported their developing of their own ideals but did not support their ignorance toward other ideals simply
because they believed their way was the only right way.
Van Jones, a political and civil rights activist came to the university to speak on this very
issue. He premises his statement by establishing two concepts of the safe space—the first of
which he agrees with and the second he does not. The first is “‘being physically safe on campus,
not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse.’” (Rose) The second concept is “‘a
horrible view, which is that “I need to be safe ideologically . . . emotionally, I just need to feel
good all the time.’” (Rose)
Jones continues with the powerful statement, “‘I don’t want you to be safe ideologically.
I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going
the pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not
going to take the weights out of the gym. That’s the whole point of the gym.’” (Jones)
Jones sees a safe space to be dangerous to a growing ideology because there is no
hardship or discomfort that will encourage strong growth in that ideology. He wants students to
understand that the discomfort they feel is what will teach them to then stand up and speak back
against things they see as wrong. He wants students to see all ideologies so that they can decide
which they will take, and then use that broadened knowledge to defend their own beliefs.
Essentially, an informed, non-sheltered student is a safe student.
Those who are against safe spaces are not against safety. They are against students hiding
out from ideals. Many, like Dean Ellison, are against this because the moment they hide out is
the moment they become unprepared to deal with discomfort and opposition in the world. Jones
wants students to feel uncomfortable so that they can learn to fix it themselves, rather than be
defended and protected by faculty.

Verdict and Conclusion
There is a disconnect. As we explore the two sides of the debate, the disconnect seems to
be in what we see as a safe space. Safe space advocates support safety of the abused, the
victimized, and the struggling—those who need spaces for healing so that they may progress.
Safe space opponents fear the intellectual safe space, which coddles the student and shields them
from adversity; the adversity needed to grow strong roots and a sturdy foundation.

But perhaps there is a middle ground. Perhaps there is a compromise. Ashutosh Bhagwat and
John Inazu from Inside Higher Ed say, “the notion of a safe space builds on the idea that people
develop intellectually and relationally not only from exposure to conflicting ideas, but also from
the protection of intimate and private settings.” (Bhagwat and Inazu)
So, I’d like to ask all of you to contribute to spreading the word: connecting the
disconnect. Safe spaces are safe to a point. Safe spaces should be created to provide protection
and enable the discussion of special interests and cultures. Those who have healed from past
wounds have proven that safe spaces were essential in their mending, their recovery. I say we
define a safe space—a justifiable, official safe space—as an infirmary of sorts. A place like a
mental illness support group, a trigger warning to discuss sexual abuse, a designated area of
comfort and healing. They are good for a supportive space for the oppressed and the hurt. They
are a place that people can grow those first roots that will soon be strengthened by adversity as
they heal over time.
We need these spaces on college campuses to ensure a foundation of basic security in an
institution to enable the benefits of uncomfortable learning, but we must also monitor their
effectiveness—their influence. We must learn, teach, and be aware of what it is that can corrupt a
safe space. Spread awareness of the signs of a corrupted safe space. The safe spaces that should
not be officiated on campuses are those that protect the beliefs of group A from the beliefs of
group B if B isn’t causing any harm besides discomfort to group A. While those minorities seek
out their safe spaces—and rightfully do so—we must dispel the growing idea that one group is
more important than the other: that gays are more important than cissexuals, women are more
important than men, people of color are more important than white people, transgenders are more
important than cisgenders, and so on. When there is discrimination, there is justification for a
safe space. But when there is simply discomfort, there is simply an opportunity for growth—for
strengthening those roots.
It’s time we try not to censor the language and actions of others because they are deemed
wrong and fundamentally immoral and instead get to the root of the problem: teach our students
and our society about why such things are unacceptable, and then leave it up to them to decide
whether or not to continue in offensive behavior. Teach them about cultural importance and
various religious beliefs, about the lives of those different from theirs. Expand their horizons.
Then, leave it to the students to learn what is right, what is wrong, and to call each other out. Let them be their own enforcers. After all, it is their right given by the First Amendment to express and to say what they want, and it is the right of others to use that same amendment to speak out
against them. We can’t control people’s words and actions, but we can try to guide them in the
direction of public awareness.
Safe spaces are growing too far from their main purpose: recovery. And we know this.
We know when they have gone too far. As exemplified by that episode of Grown-Ish, they have
gone too far when oppressed groups searching for empowerment act to disregard the
empowerment of other oppressed groups or oppress the empowered groups. Once we can end
that, we can end the disconnect, and perhaps reconnect.

Works Cited

Bhagwat, Ashutosh, and John Inazu. “Searching for Safe Spaces.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside

Higher Ed, 21 Mar. 2017,

Christakis, Erika. “Email from Erika Christakis: ‘Dressing Yourselves,’ Email to Silliman
College (Yale) Students on Halloween Costumes.” Fire, Fire, 9 Nov. 2015,

Crockett, Emily. “Safe Spaces, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 5 July 2016,
Gebreyes, Rahel. “Yale Student Weighs In On Controversy Over Halloween Costumes.” The
Huffington Post, The Huffington Post, 12 Nov. 2015,

Harris, Malcolm. “What’s a ‘Safe Space’? A Look at the Phrase’s 50-Year History.” Splinter,
Splinter News, 11 Nov. 2015,
Kratsas, Gabrielle. “20 Great Value Colleges with Safe Spaces.” Great Value Colleges, Feb.
Krieger, Helen, and Emily Miller. “Safe and Sound.” Grown-Ish, season 1, episode 11,
Freeform, 7 Mar. 2018.
Pickett, RaeAnn. “Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces Are Necessary.” Time, Time, 31 Aug.

Rose, Flemming. “Safe Spaces on College Campuses Are Creating Intolerant Students.” The
Huffington Post, The Huffington Post, 12 June 2017,
Schapiro, Morton. “I’m Northwestern’s President. Here’s Why Safe Spaces for Students Are
Important.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Jan. 2016,

Vivanco, Leonor, and Dawn Rhodes. “U. of C. Tells Incoming Freshmen it Does Not Support
‘Trigger Warnings’ or ‘Safe Spaces’.” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 26 Aug. 2016,

Confused Neurons

Grace Gwinn

Confused Neurons: The Effects of Dyslexia in Children

Gregory’s preschool teachers knew and praised him for his wild imagination, sense of
humor, and extensive vocabulary. He had a spark no one else had; surely he was advanced.
There was nothing he couldn’t build from a couple hundred LEGO bricks. His fascination with
battles, ships, and history came to life with those bricks. Creations of tiger tanks, a howitzer
cannon, and a mighty ship which he named El Bismark were proof of it. Gregory came home
from kindergarten to watch documentaries on George Washington, Winston Churchill, and
General Patton. His reenactments of their wars were nothing less than accurate. There was
something brilliant about the way his mind worked.
In first grade, Gregory got in trouble constantly for misbehavior in class. In second grade,
his teacher noticed he was struggling academically. He read much slower than the other students
and fought with math. He was labeled as “dumb” by his classmates, and he started to believe it.
His teachers tried to help, but keeping him in during recess to catch up wasn’t working. He
became lost during instruction and couldn’t understand the lesson material.
During this time, Gregory was tested for dyslexia at school. As many as one in five
children are affected by dyslexia (Thompson 4), but the negative test results claimed he wasn’t
one of them. It is typically thought that children with dyslexia will display classic symptoms
such as mixing up letters while writing or struggling to read out-loud. However, these symptoms
are not always present in a dyslexic child, and thus their disability goes unnoticed and their poor
academic performance is attributed to “unintelligence” and “laziness.” It is known that

Gwin 2
undiagnosed dyslexia could pose challenges to academic performance. However, dyslexia also
has a detrimental effect on a child’s external social life, internal self-esteem, and can lead to
unhealthy coping strategies. It is critical that children affected by dyslexia receive support and
guidance to gain the confidence they need in order to learn and progress in a healthy
environment and develop their gifts.

Background of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a complicated learning disability that unfolds during early development of the
brain. Malcolm Gladwell, a renowned author and journalist, explains in his book, David and
Goliath, that as a brain develops in a fetus, neurons are sent to specific areas in the brain,
enabling them to carry out their appropriate and indispensable functions. However, in dyslexic
brains, the neurons get lost along their way to their designated areas (Gladwell 99). When
neurons arrive to the wrong region, they are not able to carry out their intended functions, and
the areas of the brain that were supposed to be filled with cells don’t have any. This creates a
problem when a dyslexic person looks at a page and begins to read. Their brain has to work
harder to accomplish a task because their neurons are not in their assigned areas.
Dyslexia used to only be defined as a condition affecting the way words are seen, but that
view has since changed. It was thought that the letters of words were jumbled and turned
backward in the dyslexics’ mind. However, dyslexia is often a more complicated disability that
affects the way words are heard and sounds are manipulated. The English language is built on
the expectation that a human brain can recognize and understand the subtle differences between
sounds (Gladwell 101). Language is made up of sounds that pass by in mere milliseconds.
Because of developmental differences in a dyslexic’s brain, they take more time to decipher

Gwin 3
sounds and create words. Their disability is based on the fact that sometimes the sounds of words
simply pass by too quickly for them to comprehend.
Dyslexics take more time to decipher between sounds because they use their right, or
more conceptual side of the brain to carry out the process of reading instead of using their left
side. Reading is a meticulous and precise process, and because dyslexics use the wrong side of
their brain, they take considerably more time to decipher between words and sounds of language
than the average person (Gladwell 100). Dyslexia defines a difference in the way a brain is
developed, and thus, the disability has a profound effect on the way dyslexics think. The areas of
their brains are different and they use abnormal regions of their brains to carry out tasks.
Consequently, when they try to think like a typical person, it takes them much longer.
Problem in the Education System
Undiagnosed dyslexia creates many problems, especially when a child enters into school
systems. Dyslexia, while labeled as a disability, is really just a different way of thinking. This
developmental problem requires those affected to use different parts of their brains to think than
the average person. The negative effect of dyslexia surfaces in the education system when
affected children are told to think like the typical student. This is impossible for them to do and
frustrates their ability to learn in traditional schools. Their brains do not function like the average
student, so how can they be expected to perform like the average student?
The obvious solution to this problem is to teach dyslexic students differently, in a way
that their brain can understand. But, because dyslexia is so complex and “covers a wide range of
learning issues…encompassing visual and auditory processing skills and memory capacity, it can
be very hard to identify these difficulties in childhood” (Olds). This makes dyslexia very hard to
diagnose, and most of the time the disability goes unnoticed. Even in instances where
discrepancies are noticed in affected students, little action is taken. Lise Roll-Pettersson and Eva

Gwin 4
Mattson of the Stockholm Institute of Education state that there has been a “trend” for educators
to use a “wait and see attitude.” This attitude attributes “perceived problems in reading and writing [to] possible indicators of immature development rather than a dyslexic difficulty” (Roll- Pettersson and Mattson 411). The unidentifiable attributes and the unacknowledgement of dyslexia greatly impacts affected children and their ability to learn. Their disabilities are pushed
to the side and are left untreated. When children with dyslexia are left undiagnosed, they struggle
in school and their grades suffer. S. Gunnel Ingesson of the Department of Psychology at Lund
University in Sweden conducted a study into how dyslexia affects a student’s academic
performance. As shown below in Figure 1, her study states that 80% of affected students believe
that dyslexia negatively impacted their school and academic achievements “quite a lot” or “very
much” (581). This disability not only leads to poor grades, but affects the child externally with
social anxiety, internally with low self-esteem, and leads to unhealthy coping strategies.  A majority of the students in the study found dyslexia to negatively affect their academic achievements “very much” while an additional 10% found dyslexia to affect their academic
achievements “quite a lot.” (Ingesson 581).

Gwin 5

Effects of Dyslexia
External Effects: Social Anxiety
A dyslexic child’s inability to understand and learn as easily as their peers creates social
anxiety in their lives. They begin to feel isolated and alone as they watch others succeed and
move on in their studies. Jonathan Glazzard, an author for the British Journal of Learning
Support conducted interviews with affected students and concluded that dyslexia brings feelings
of isolation. One of the students interviewed said, “‘I felt left out because everyone was going off
ahead and finishing their work. They would get to play with games once they had finished at
primary school and I’m still there working. I knew I had more problems than the rest because I
was always last to finish’” (Glazzard 65). When students struggle academically, they begin to
feel self-conscious of their inability to do the things that their peers are doing. This instantly
creates a wall of separation and the dyslexic child does not feel like they are included.
Students also experience social anxiety relating to their self-image when their peers and
teachers begin to notice their inabilities. Neil Humphrey, a doctoral author, explains that as
children enter into secular education, their teachers and peers become their most influential
figures. He says it is “in the presence of one whom we feel to be of importance [that] there is a
tendency to enter into and adopt … his judgement of ourself” (Humphrey 131). Children view
themselves from the perspective of admired individuals. Therefore, esteemed teachers and peers
have to ability to, “reflect an image of [a] child which, if consistent and stable (although not
necessarily accurate), is incorporated into [that] child’s developing sense of self” (Humphrey
131). Thus, it is very important to a child that their teachers and peers view them in a positive
way. They want and need to feel loved and included. Dyslexia, however, poses a threat to this

Gwin 6
As a dyslexic child continues in the education system, their continuous and constant
failure becomes obvious to their peers. When learning disabilities such as dyslexia are present,
bullying and teasing significantly increases. Up to half of dyslexic students are verbally bullied
by their peers (Glazzard 66). When a dyslexic’s peers belittle them and view them and their
struggles negatively, it hurts their self-image. They begin to see themselves as their peers do and
their self-esteem falls into a damaging downward spiral.
While teachers do not usually verbally bully dyslexic students as their peers might,
teachers have a tendency to disregard dyslexia. They might overlook the student’s struggles to
see if the student outgrows them, or they may simply label the student as “lazy” or “dumb.” In
both cases, teachers brush the disability away and do nothing to help the struggling student–
sometimes even after they have been officially diagnosed. One of the students interviewed in a
study describes the following experience (italics added for emphasis), “‘[My teacher] was getting
on at me because I couldn’t do the spelling test. She said you shouldn’t be at this low level.
You’ll be kept in at break if you don’t get higher marks. She refused to accept that I had a
genuine problem. She said I was lazy’” (Glazzard 65). It is detrimental to a child’s self-esteem if
a teacher completely disregards their struggles and fails to help them. If teachers are not able to
recognize dyslexia, children will continue to struggle academically and emotionally.
Internal Effects: Low Self-Esteem
Dyslexia greatly impacts the way a child views themself and can have detrimental effects
on their self-esteem. As a child ages, they begin to notice and compare the results of their peers
to their own. Studies point out that, “around the age of eight… self-referential statements (the
statements children make about themselves) shift from the absolute (‘I am good at math’) to the
comparative (‘I’m better at math than most other children’)” (Humphrey 132). When the
dyslexic begins to notice their consistent academic failures and they compare it to their peers’

Gwin 7
successes, they quickly become disappointed in themselves. Glazzard’s study found that 89% of
dyslexic students felt feelings of being stupid and disappointed because of the comparisons they made against their peers (64). This comparative tendency harms a dyslexic’s feelings of self-worth. They think they are “stupid” because they don’t know where else to place the blame for their failures.
The comparisons dyslexic children make are detrimental to their internal value of self.
Dr. Neil Humphrey of the University of Manchester and Dr. Patricia M. Mullins of Liverpool
John Moores University conducted extensive research into how dyslexic children associate
attributes with characteristics. They found that children with dyslexia associate happiness and
intelligence with being a good reader more than children without dyslexia (Humphrey and
Mullins 200). This shows that dyslexic children think that if someone can read, they are smart
and will be happy. A dyslexic child will always perceive themselves as unintelligent until they
can match their peers’ reading level. This can be detrimental to their self-esteem because as a
result of their disability, they will never be able to level up to their peers’ reading capabilities.
With failure peeking around every corner in a dyslexic’s academic life, they begin to feel
inadequate and helpless. In fact, their fruitless efforts start to become so much a part of their life,
that they truly begin to think of themselves as failures. Their self-worth plummets as they begin
crediting their failures in school to internal factors such as their “unintelligence” or “laziness”
and their small successes to external factors such as a good teacher (Humphrey and Mullins 201).
Dyslexic children do not have the mental capacity to see themselves as successful. The effects of
this on a dyslexic’s self-esteem is absolutely devastating.

Gwin 8

Coping Strategies
In order to compensate for their unknown disability, diminish their feelings of social
anxiety, and heighten their self-esteem, dyslexic children will begin to develop unhealthy coping
strategies and self-handicaps. Some of these handicaps include procrastination, not trying very
hard, and making up excuses for their failures (Alesi, Rappo, and Pepi 953). These handicaps do
not fix the problem; rather they help to cover it up. Elly Singer in the Department of Education
of the University of Amsterdam conducted a study to understand the coping strategies of students
affected by dyslexia. She found that the largest encompassing profile describes dyslexics as
students that try and hide their problem to protect their self-esteem. They did not ask for help
from teachers or peers because they were bullied for their poor academic performance (Singer
326). While this method helps to conceal a dyslexic’s difficulties, and might be effective in early
years of schooling, it will ultimately create much larger problems for them. As they age and enter
into more advanced studies, their lack of ability will catch up with them and their old methods of
coping will not be effective anymore.
When a dyslexic reaches the point where they are not able to stay in pace with the rest of
their peers, they become discouraged and frustration of failure overtakes them. As they realize
there is absolutely nothing they can do to succeed, they start to believe that there no point to
continue putting forth effort in school. An interviewed dyslexic said, “‘I felt….kind of
disappointed with myself because I couldn’t do stuff, so because I couldn’t do it, I just didn’t
bother doing it. I failed a lot. If a teacher asked me to write something I wouldn’t do it. I found it
hard so I just gave up’” (Glazzard 64). Their frustration with their inabilities leads them to a life
without purpose. Dyslexia causes so much frustration that some children take this a step further
and instead of doing nothing, they act up. The same interviewed dyslexic as referenced above
continued by saying, “‘I’d be just naughty in general. I would not do the work purposely just to

Gwin 9
annoy the teacher. I used to try to get sent out of lessons so I needn’t do as much work’”
(Glazzard 64). This effect of dyslexia can lead down a dangerous path. As dyslexic children’s
frustration increases, their acts of resistance escalate. In fact, children with dyslexia are more
likely to end up in the juvenile system because they misbehave (Gladwell 102). It is imperative
that children with dyslexia are helped in their studies so they can continue to progress and learn
in a positive way.

Dyslexia is not a disability affecting intelligence. In fact, some of the most brilliant and
influential people in history were dyslexic. Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Disney, and Pablo Picasso were all dyslexic (“Psychology Degree”). About one-third of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including Steve Jobs and Richard Branson (Gladwell 106). This is because dyslexia allows for a different way of thinking. Children with
dyslexia do not understand this, and thus they see dyslexia as a burden that keeps them from
excelling to the level of their peers. They need positive reinforcement in their lives to overcome
the negative effects of dyslexia. There needs to be support in the home, but more importantly at
school. Shally Novita of the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories found that while a
child’s self-esteem is negatively impacted and their anxiety is heightened in the classroom, these
problems are not as apparent in the home (280). It is essential to have positive influences
available for dyslexic children at school to support them. Studies have shown that support from
teachers helped dyslexics to learn and helped heighten their self-esteem. This happens through
making classroom adaptations or even just by developing a relationship with the dyslexic student
(Glazzard 65). This would provide the student with someone safe to go to when they need help
and accommodations to allow more time for assignments and reinforced instruction. With the
help of teachers, children can learn to see dyslexia as a gift instead of a disability (Olds).

Gwin 10
Teachers have the unique position to nurture a student both emotionally and academically. By
aiding to these needs, teachers can greatly impact the course of a dyslexic child’s life.

Dyslexia can detrimentally change the course of a child’s life academically,
emotionally, and socially if left alone. Dyslexia is a condition that describes differences in the
way a brain has developed. Thus, symptoms are not limited to and don’t always include
problems with reading and writing. Affected children need more time to make connections with
words and sounds in order to make meaning out of them. Children with dyslexia think differently
than the average child. They need support and help from their teachers in order to understand and
overcome their limitations and differences. It is only through this support that they can begin to
see dyslexia in a new light.
Gregory continued to struggle in school, attributing his consistent failure to his
“unintelligence.” He had no idea why he was having problems until he was tested for dyslexia
again in fifth grade, only this time more extensively and by a licensed psychologist. The test
diagnosed Gregory with dyslexia, not just because of his poor reading skills, but because of the
way his brain functioned. He went to special teachers and counselors that helped him understand
and work through his academic and emotional problems. He found out that his heroes, George
Washington, Winston Churchill, and General Patton all had dyslexia, too (“Psychology
Degree”). After receiving support and guidance, he no longer labeled himself as “dumb.” He
began to progress and achieve academically. His grades soon rose from C’s and D’s to A’s and
B’s. As dyslexia continues to negatively affect many children, it is clear that teachers need to
understand this disability and provide the support needed to help the child advance academically
and emotionally to achieve their full potential.

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Works Cited

Alesi, Marianna, Gaetano Rappo, and Annamaria Pepi. “Self-Esteem at School and Self-
Handicapping in Childhood: Comparison of Groups with Learning Disabilities.”

Psychological Reports, vol. 111, no. 3, 2012, pp. 952-962, https://www-lib-byu-

b=asn&AN=86694477&site=ehost-live&scope=site, doi:10.2466/15.10.PR0.111.6.952-962.
Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Back
Bay Books, 2015.
Glazzard, Jonathan. “The Impact of Dyslexia on Pupils’ Self-Esteem.” Support for Learning, vol.

25, no. 2, 2010, pp. 63-69,

b=asn&AN=50211057&site=ehost-live&scope=site, doi:10.1111/j.1467-
Humphrey, N., and P. M. Mullins. “Personal Constructs and Attribution for Academic Success
and Failure in Dyslexia.” British Journal of Special Education, vol. 29, no. 4, 2002, pp. 196-


Humphrey, Neil. “Facilitating a Positive Sense of Self in Pupils with Dyslexia: The Role of

Teachers and Peers.” Support for Learning, vol. 18, no. 3, 2003, pp. 130-136, https://www-

Gwin 12

b=asn&AN=10203078&site=ehost-live&scope=site, doi:10.1111/1467-9604.00295.
Ingesson, S. G. “Growing Up with Dyslexia.” School Psychology International, vol. 28, no. 5,

2007, pp. 574-591,

b=asn&AN=28156930&site=ehost-live&scope=site, doi:10.1177/0143034307085659.
Novita, Shally. “Secondary Symptoms of Dyslexia: A Comparison of Self-Esteem and Anxiety
Profiles of Children with and without Dyslexia.” European Journal of Special Needs

Education, vol. 31, no. 2, 2016, pp. 279-288,


Olds, Sarah. “Undiagnosed Dyslexia.” Therapy Today, vol. 27, no. 5, 2016, https://www-lib- bin/

“Psychology Degree.” 50 Famously Successful People Who Are Dyslexic, Psychology Degree,
Roll-Pettersson, Lise, and Eva H. Mattson. “Perspectives of Mothers of Children with Dyslectic
Difficulties Concerning their Encounters with School: A Swedish Example.” European

Journal of Special Needs Education, vol. 22, no. 4, 2007, pp. 409-423, https://www-lib-byu-
bin/ aspx?

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Singer, Elly S. “Coping with Academic Failure, a Study of Dutch Children with Dyslexia.”

Dyslexia (10769242), vol. 14, no. 4, 2008, pp. 314-333, https://www-lib-byu-

b=asn&AN=34978130&site=ehost-live&scope=site, doi:10.1002/dys.352.
Thompson, Tony. “My Heroic, Dyslexic Son.” Eureka Street, vol. 26, no. 6, 2016, pp. 3-5,


The Impact of Hamilton: An American Musical

Sara Garrett

Defining a Nation: The Impact of Hamilton: An American Musical

Listening to a musical is an interesting experience. And I don’t mean the experience
where you’re sitting in a fancy theater and the lights go dim, the curtain rises, and it’s just you
and the actors and the audience. I mean the experience when you’re sitting in your standard
minivan on a road trip, tired from a family trip, and it’s just you and your headphones and the
passing scenery. When you listen to a musical like that, you don’t get the full experience. You
get the main bits, the general plot, the songs and the lyrics and the emotion; but the acting, the
sets, the feel of the performance is just not there—so you fill in those missing parts yourself. It’s
certainly not the same experience as a live production, but with a little bit of imagination, it is an
experience—one where you laugh and cry, where you relate to its message. And as I sat in my
car and listened to the songs of the newest musical craze, Hamilton, I knew that even though my
listening experience was less than ideal, I was listening to something truly revolutionary.


Hamilton: An American Musical first graced the stage back in 2015 and since then has become a
cultural phenomenon. It is the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican writer, composer,
and performer, who wanted to put this lesser known founding father on stage after reading Rob
Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton (Mead). In the past four years, the musical has
exploded in popularity, setting new standards for Broadway, with “$111 million in ticket sales in
just over 13 months, 16 Tony Award nominations (and 11 wins), [and] a Pulitzer Prize for
Drama” (Berman 51). It has leaked into wedding vows and birthday parties, as well as
nomination speeches and Met Gala outfits. There are homemade costumes, a companion book to
the musical, and even a camel dubbed “Alexander Camelton” after this revived founding father

Garrett 2
(Berman 52). It is no secret that this revolutionary show, well known for its racial diversity and
unique blend of Broadway with rap and hip-hop, has become a integral aspect of American life.
But attempting to tell a historical story with such a new spin, especially one as well known as the
American Revolution, will not go without some critique. Critics have found fault with the way
Hamilton portrays American history, but others argue the show can nevertheless be a force for
good. Despite its faults, this musical is profoundly beneficial to contemporary American society;
it increases awareness of social issues, encourages discussions of our nation’s history, and
ultimately reinforces our constant effort to reinterpret our past and find a unifying national

Hamilton’s unique style and production has made it the perfect vehicle for necessary social
commentary, and its fame helps make the public more aware of political issues. In 2014, while
creating Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda watched the growing controversies surrounding police
brutality and Black Lives Matter. With white police officers avoiding punishment for killing
African-American men such as Michael Brown, and protestors assembling for demonstrations in
the streets, Miranda tweeted some lines from Hamilton in response: “If we win our
independence / Is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants? / Or will the blood we shed
begin an endless / Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?” (Mead). A couple years
later, following the controversial election of 2016, the cast of Hamilton used the musical as an
opportunity to make a statement to then Vice-President-elect Mike Pence when he attended one
of their shows—and it caused quite a stir (see fig. 1). “We, sir — we — are the diverse America
who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our

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children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” said the actor of Aaron
Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, on behalf of the production. “We truly hope that this show has
inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us” (Mele and
Healy). The president lashed out in response, but Hamilton, with a unique combination of
patriotism and ethnic diversity, was able to use its platform to better defend the rights of those
they felt would be harmed by the Trump presidency. This standoff between a Broadway musical
and the political administration ultimately increased awareness of the social inequalities
prevalent today. But there are more recent events as well. To further emphasize the production’s position
towards the president’s policies, last year the powerful lyric, “immigrants—we get the job done”
was turned into a music video of the same name that depicts the struggles and uncertainties of
immigrant life. It opens with a commentator stating, “It’s really astonishing that in a country

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founded by immigrants, ‘immigrant’ has somehow become a bad word,” setting the tone for the
video and its commentary on the current rhetoric surrounding immigration (Deb). And finally,
this past March, Miranda collaborated with Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt to combine their
respective ballads, “Story of Tonight” and “You Will be Found”, to make a new charity single.
The medley, titled “Found/Tonight”, was created to support March for Our Lives, a rally
protesting the lack of gun control in response to the fatal Parkland shooting. Miranda said he was
in awe of the movement and the students behind it, and wanted his song to be his “way of
helping to raise funds and awareness for their efforts” (Kreps). These examples show how the
political content, diverse cast, and charged lyrics of Hamilton combine to create a musical lent to
social and political commentary, as its creators, cast, and fans have clearly shown. One study by
Alliant International University in San Francisco found that “[m]usical theater may be a
promising method for promoting attitudinal change” (Jacobs). If that is true, then by taking a
stand on political and social issues, Hamilton has benefited our political climate by making more
people aware of and even altering their attitude toward pressing issues, which will hopefully lead
those under its influence to more active political participation.

But for all the acclaim regarding its socio-political influence, this ground-breaking musical still
has its critics. Many of these critics argue that not only does the musical portray history
inaccurately, but also that it is not as revolutionary in its interpretation of history as initially
thought. Many historians have fact-checked Hamilton and found significant errors that have
fostered incorrect knowledge surrounding the American Revolution among the general public.
Kenneth Owen, an associate professor of history at Oxford, admits Hamilton has a modern and

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creative presentation, but laments the traditional “hero narrative” view the musical takes (510).
Although the musical “[takes] some liberties with historical details” to create a comprehensive
drama of Hamilton’s life, Owen is more disturbed by the idealized man it presents (511). The
musical glosses over Hamilton’s more controversial opinions, such as his support for military
leadership or instituting a new American monarchy. Furthermore, the real Hamilton disliked
“common” people and tried hard to distance himself from them; thus, the musical ironically
molds him into an acceptable modern-day hero Hamilton himself would have distrusted
(Freeman 261). Accordingly, some historians argue that Hamilton is “the wrong hero for our
age” (Smith 519), as viewers are left with a distorted view of this controversial founding father.
But Miranda doesn’t just idealize this lesser known Founding Father: his whole
interpretation of the American Revolution falls into what Owen and other historians call the
Great Man theory of history, where a few elite men, such as Washington and Jefferson, are
constructed as the only important historical actors—and the media has only been encouraging
this obsession. Movies and TV shows such as 1776 and The Sons of Liberty, not to mention a
host of worshipful biographies such as the one by Ron Chernow, have all contributed to this
“Founders chic” trend, and Hamilton is no different. Its portrayal of the founding through the
escapades of an elite few means it falls into this “American Revolution rebooted” genre, causing
some to argue that it is, in fact, not very revolutionary at all (Schocket). Ironically, this “Great
Man” approach ignores the very ideas Hamilton stands for: the common immigrant, the power of
the united group, and the representation of those usually excluded from the narrative.
Consequently, Hamilton leaves us with a great contradiction as it sets up One man as a
representation of what One man alone cannot be—the realization of Everyman.

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But why worry about accuracy and content if it’s just a musical? Nancy Isenberg, a
Professor of History at Louisiana State University, addresses the need for all this historical
debate by acknowledging how entertainment like a Broadway show can have a greater impact on
what people know than a historian ever could; thus, the popularity of Hamilton implies a greater
need for historians to step forward and “make the cultural producers of popular history more
accountable” (303). If they do not, then incorrect interpretations created for entertainment soon
become the assumed truth, weaving themselves into the collective historical remembrance and
distorting our ability to accurately connect to and learn from our past. Thus, historians must work
to keep the record straight before inaccuracies become too entrenched in society’s memory that
they might as well be fact.
While I admit that historical accuracy is valuable, I believe that musicals can be
inaccurate yet thought-provoking; despite its faults, Hamilton has benefited historians by
opening the gateway for historical discussions. When Lin-Manuel Miranda began writing his
biography-based musical, he set out wanting, “the historians to respect [it]” (Mead). Much of the
musical is drawn from Rob Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton, and Chernow was, in
fact, a historical consultant throughout the musical’s creation. Thus, much of Hamilton is
factually correct, although some would claim that makes its inaccuracies more deceptive, as,
“[i]ts fictions seem factual when mingled with historical facts” (Freeman 256). However, one
must remember that Hamilton is a musical, admittedly a historically based one, where
entertainment comes first; educating the audience just happens to be a happy side benefit.
Presenting history through entertainment is a time-honored practice in part because it makes
history relevant to non-historians. Becoming a pop culture phenomenon means Hamilton, as well
as Hamilton the man, are talked about across the nation. Such awareness leads to changes such as

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keeping the previously unrecognized founding father on the ten-dollar bill, as well as
opportunities for concerned historians to draw in audiences outside of the usual university class
or historical documentary. With a groundbreaking musical as a hook, one can draw in and further
educate many casual history fans on the deeper nuances of our nation’s history.
In fact, Hamilton has allowed many history teachers to do just that, providing “manna
from the curriculum gods” (Berman 54). The musical’s modern music style and racial diversity
grab the attention of students, allowing them to see “an inclusive take on our national history”;
these students understandably find a colored Thomas Jefferson rapping about cabinet meetings
far more entertaining and relatable than the traditional white figure from their textbook
(McAllister 288). The show has expanded on this opportunity by partnering with the nonprofit
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, among others, to help history students from
underprivileged schools have access to the musical and gain a better appreciation for history
(Berman 54). As Benjamin Carp, an Associate Professor of History at Brooklyn College, put it,
Hamilton is somewhere between dismissive pop culture and revolutionary historical
interpretation; we must acknowledge its influence on larger audiences since “pop culture does
matter,” but also recognize that historians “lay the foundation” for its existence (291). Thus,
although the musical may not be entirely accurate, it starts important social conversations about
history, and historians can “take full advantage of the spotlight that Hamilton has cast” to delve
deeper into the character of and context surrounding the ever-complex Alexander Hamilton, as
well as our nation’s history (Freeman 262).

But perhaps most influential has been Hamilton’s racial diversity. The musical is well known for
how it subverts traditional expectations by placing people of color in historically white roles.

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And that casting change was very intentional. Commenting on his struggle to find lead roles,
Lin-Manuel Miranda admitted that, “[i]f I want to play the main guy, I have found, I have to
write it” (Mead). So that’s what he did, opening leading roles for many actors used to staying on
the sidelines or playing the classic sidekick. The producers of Hamilton are determined to keep it
that way with a recent casting call asking for “nonwhite men and women.” Their wording
inspired some criticism, and the producers agreed to change it, but they remained firm on their
intent to have a diverse cast (Paulson). By having Hamilton performed in such a way, Miranda
has given minorities the chance to literally step into the spotlight, and that action is made all the
more powerful by the extremely patriotic and revered positions they fill on stage.
But Hamilton doesn’t just “change casting practices on Broadway…it changes the
questions audiences ask about who can body-forth American history” (Nathans 277). Miranda
explained in one interview: “we’re telling the stories of old, dead white men but we’re using
actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary
audience” (McAllister 283). By portraying the well-known story of our nation’s founding with people of color, Hamilton places minorities in “the room where it happens,” a place of decision-making they have been denied throughout history, thus making them feel more of a connection to our nation’s founders and their own elusive American identity (McAllister 288). The musical
also captures the raw emotion and fear surrounding the revolution, making this historical event
more immediate and powerful to the audience. The American Revolution wasn’t just an
inevitable series of events acted out by omniscient white founders—it was “ambitious, risky, and
in-the-making” (Freeman 261). The traditional American ideals such as freedom, democracy,
and new beginnings are thus stripped of their traditional white façade and portrayed for all to
relate to and act upon. Overall, this inclusive interpretation alters how we perceive “who belongs

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to the founding,” because Hamilton is ultimately a reflection of how our nation has changed
since then (Schocket 269). The United States of America may have started out one way, but it
certainly doesn’t look that way now. America is known for its diversity, and Hamilton allows
minorities to celebrate their background and still feel American. When Miranda wrote this
musical, he combined his many identities in one piece: from Puerto Rico to New York, hip-hop
to Broadway. And that combination of all his “spaces into one room…excites people, because
that’s what this country is”—multiple identities and multiple cultures blending into one,
phenomenal entity (Mead). As Obama once said in reference to Hamilton, “the show reminds us
that this nation was built by more than just a few great men — and that it is an inheritance that
belongs to all of us” (Paulson). By translating contemporary identities onto a classic American
story, Hamilton allows those identities to translate classic American ideals back onto themselves
and truly feel a part of our collective story, both then and now.
Crucial to this reinterpretation of history are the gaps in historical knowledge that allow
Americans to infer new and relevant meaning from old sources. Applying the experiences of the
past to issues of the present is nothing new, even when it comes to Alexander Hamilton. Joanne
Freeman, a Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, claims that, “[f]rom
the dawning of the republic to the present day, generation after generation has created a
Founding narrative that served their needs, with Hamilton’s reputation rising and falling
accordingly.” From a popular money-man whose acceptance fell once the Depression hit, to a
“prophet of the glories of capitalism” during the Cold War, to the immigrant hero he is today,
Americans have been revering or despising Hamilton according to their will and pleasure (258).
As Isenberg put it, “history is created by the archive”, and that archive is incomplete. Those in
power are those who write history, consequently leaving many stories untold and open to

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interpretation. This gives interpreters of history the freedom to praise or condemn according to
how they fill in the gaps (Nathans 274). Americans have used this principle when they applied
the words of a slaveowner to civil rights, or when laws written by landowning males were
expanded to cover many outside of that category. Hamilton also takes advantage of this idea,
inviting audiences to reinterpret our nation’s founding to fit their current situation. Because
“America’s Founding myths are so central to national identity”, our nation turns to the Founding
for reinterpretation when our diversity increases and more people must be included in our story
(Owen 515). Thus, Hamilton can be seen as another effort to create a unifying identity,
something we need now more than ever. In our divisive and uncertain times, the ideals of the
past that we Americans hold common are what unify us, and Hamilton shows us how we can
reinterpret those ideals to better define our nation.

Everyone can agree that Hamilton has impacted our nation, in more ways than one. It may have
historical inaccuracies, but by breaking Broadway records and becoming a cultural phenomenon,
this historic musical has forever changed our country by bringing political issues and historical
discussions to the forefront of our nation’s conversations. These conversations are valuable
because they help us acknowledge that as Americans, we don’t need to be limited by our past;
instead we can use our past to expand our collective identity and unify our society as what it
means to be “American” continues to grow and change. Thus, by redefining one of America’s
most revered historical events—its Founding—Hamilton: An American Musical has aided in the
defining of an ever-changing nation.

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Works Cited

Berman, Eliza. “Hamilton Nation.” Time, vol. 188, no. 14, 2016, pp. 50-54. Academic Search
Carp, Benjamin L. “World Wide Enough: Historiography, Imagination, and Stagecraft.” Journal
of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 289-294. Academic Search
Deb, Sopan. “New ‘Hamilton Mixtape’ Music Video Takes Aim at Immigration.” The New York

Times, 28 Jun. 2017,

Freeman, Joanne B. “Will the Real Alexander Hamilton Please Stand Up?” Journal of the Early
Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 255-262. Academic Search Premier,
Isenberg, Nancy. “‘Make ‘Em Laugh’: Why History Cannot be Reduced to Song and
Dance.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 295-303. Academic
Search Premier,
Jacobs, Tom. “Musicals Have the Power to Change Minds.” Pacific Standard, The Social Justice

Foundation, 1 Mar. 2012,

Kreps, Daniel. “Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt Release New Song for March for Our Lives.”

Rolling Stone, 19 Mar. 2018,

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McAllister, Marvin. “Toward a More Perfect Hamilton.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37,
no. 2, 2017, pp. 279-288. Academic Search Premier,
Mead, Rebecca. “All About the Hamiltons.” The New Yorker, 9 February 2015,
Mele, Christopher, and Healy, Patrick. “’Hamilton’ Had Some Unscripted Lines for Pence.
Trump Wasn’t Happy.” The New York Times, 19 Nov. 2016,
Nathans, Heather S. “Crooked Histories: Re-Presenting Race, Slavery, and Alexander Hamilton
Onstage.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 271-278. Academic
Search Premier,
Owen, Kenneth. “Can Great Art also be Great History?” Independent Review, vol. 21, no. 4,
2017, pp. 509-517. Academic Search Premier,
Paulson, Michael. “’Hamilton’ Producers Will Change Job Posting, but Not Commitment to
Diverse Casting.” The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2016,

Schocket, Andrew M. “The American Revolution Rebooted: Hamilton and Genre in
Contemporary Culture.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 263-269.
Academic Search Premier,

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Smith, Billy G. “Alexander Hamilton the Wrong Hero for our Age.” Independent Review, vol.
21, no. 4, 2017, pp. 519-522. Academic Search Premier,
Stiglich, Tom. “See Why Trump and ‘Hamilton’ Are Dueling.” Cartoon. Conservative Book

Club, 2016,

Pleasure Reading and College Performance

Sofia Schofield

Pleasure Reading and College Performance

I have lately found myself looking longingly at my bookshelf filled with beloved titles,
fantasizing about curling up on the couch to read Harry Potter or Pride & Prejudice. Instead, I
force myself to open my textbook and scan through countless passages which drone on and on
about emperors who ruled ancient civilizations centuries ago. As an undergraduate, my schedule
is dominated by school assignments. College students expect to spend a significant amount of
time on their studies, but they may find it difficult to balance their responsibilities, let alone
incorporate hobbies such as reading into their schedules. However, without time spent on
activities like pleasure reading, undergraduates may become easily burnt out in their academic
assignments. To investigate this topic, I will address the following questions throughout the
paper: Does reading for pleasure improve the academic performance of college students? If so,
should college students consistently dedicate time to pleasure reading, even if it takes time away
from studying? Does pleasure reading impact non-academic aspects of students’ lives as well?
Although undergraduate students do not have a lot of free time outside of their studies, they
should invest more time in regular pleasure reading in order to reap academic and non-academic
benefits such as creativity, comprehension, writing skills, and empathy.

1. Students’ perspectives of reading

Before examining information about the effects of pleasure reading on undergraduates, it
is necessary to first understand students’ attitudes toward reading, especially those influenced by
lack of time or desire to read. Reading becomes a chore for students when they no longer view it
as an enjoyable activity. Thomas Newkirk, founder of the New Hampshire Literacy Institutes
and English professor at the University of New Hampshire, claims that schools create this lack of

desire to read by assigning textbook passages as the majority of students’ reading homework.
Newkirk argues that textbooks lack in the elements needed to sustain students’ passions for
reading: authorship, form, venue, and duration. He states, “Reading is transformed from an
experience to a task. It concludes not with that special feeling of literary closure — but with a set
of comprehension assignments. Readers lose the sense of autonomy they experience when
reading texts in the original venue, on their own terms” (Newkirk). Therefore, students’
perspectives of reading change due to the monotonous undertaking of textbook reading. Newkirk
continues that the solution for improving students’ reading experiences is to incorporate “truly
authored trade books” into class materials as a replacement for textbooks (Newkirk). As a result
of reading traditional books instead of textbook passages, students’ attitudes towards reading
would adjust to a more favorable view.

2. Traits of students who read for pleasure

The academic outlooks of undergraduates who read for pleasure are driven by
self-actualization, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as the following: “to realize fully one’s
potential.” In a study conducted by William B. Davidson and Jeffrey M. Bromfield of Angelo
State University and Hall P. Beck of Appalachian State University, the researchers predicted that
college students with higher self-actualization scores would have higher positive correlations
with creative expression, academic efficacy, and reading for pleasure, as well as lower negative
correlations with structure dependence, academic apathy, and mistrust of instructors. Four
hundred forty-eight undergraduates were measured in their academic views and creativity levels.
The results were as predicted; students with higher self-actualization scores tended to correlate
positively and negatively with the expected variables. Essentially, the researchers learned that

college students who read for pleasure enjoy being creative, and are productive and successful in
their studies. They view their professors positively, are able to achieve the desired results for
assignments without specific guidelines, and are eager to learn (Bromfield et al. 604-612).
Furthermore, students who spend time reading for pleasure tend to be more creative. This
relationship was found by Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp. The researchers knew from
previously conducted studies that both pleasure reading and creativity have been found to
correlate with undergraduates’ academic achievement, and hypothesized that pleasure reading
and creativity would have a positive correlation among university students. Two hundred
twenty-five undergraduates were measured in their patterns of pleasure reading and creativity
levels. The results of the study determined that pleasure reading and creativity did correlate
positively as Kelly and Kneipp had hypothesized. From this information, it can be concluded that
students who read for pleasure benefit from higher levels of creativity. It is apparent from this
correlation that creative individuals tend to read more, and students who read more tend to
become more creative (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). Creativity is a valuable trait to possess,
especially due to the modern emphasis on an entertainment culture. Society seeks entertainment,
and creative people are responsible for satisfying the demand through valuable contributions in
books, movies, music, and more.

3. Conflicting correlations

Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp cited previous research which stated that reading for
pleasure results in decreased loneliness. Another study they found, however, discussed how the
amount of time spent on pleasure reading correlated negatively with happiness (Kelly and
Kneipp 1137-1144). This research study, conducted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy

Hunter, investigated how various activities affected teenage participants’ happiness. Based on
the participants’ self-reported levels of happiness, pleasure reading was shown to have a negative
correlation with happiness, demonstrating that adolescents who read more tend to be unhappier.
The study suggested a potential reason for this unexpected correlation: “The percent of time
students spend socializing is also positively related to happiness.” Thus, the researchers
hypothesized, the negative correlation between reading and happiness “could be due to the fact
that young people who read more are less often in the company of their peers. There is a slight
negative correlation…between the amount of time spent reading and the percent of time spent
with friends.” This suggests that students who read more tend to spend less time socializing
(Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 193). If students are happier while socializing than while reading,
how is it possible that those who read have decreased loneliness? This may be because pleasure
reading can lead to a sense of belonging, even if only within the world of literature. For example,
readers can connect with the characters they read about, identifying with the challenges and
triumphs characters face on a personal level. This may lead to decreased loneliness for students
who engage in pleasure reading; students may feel less alone in their experiences after relating to
similar experiences shared by literary characters. In addition, the researchers did not take into
account the idea that pleasure reading can be a social activity. While reading is typically
visualized as a solitary activity, undergraduates can read in the company of other students or in
book clubs, or can read aloud to other people. These reasons may explain why pleasure reading
can correlate with both decreased loneliness and decreased happiness.
It is also important to consider the methods that were used to obtain participants’
happiness levels. As the researchers described, the method used to survey participants “relies on

subjects’ responses to an electronic pager that signals at random times during the waking hours
of the day, yielding up to fty measures of happiness at specic moments during an average
week. Each time the pager signals, the respondents rate their experiential states, including their
levels of happiness” (Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 186). While the data collected from the
participants was valid, the method to collect it may not have been. Because the method of
acquiring data was based on participants’ responsiveness, it is possible that not all participants
responded when prompted. The researchers also admitted, “Self-reported happiness is less stable
than other dimensions of experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, and Hunter 187). These shortcomings
of the method used in the study may have affected the data collected, and in turn, the conclusions
drawn by the researchers.
4. Pleasure reading benefits may not be apparent to students, but are demonstrated in their work
Although pleasure reading has positive impacts on those who make time to read,
undergraduates may not notice the difference it produces in their work. Rebecca Constantino, a
professor to university students learning English as a second language, hypothesized that
students in her class who read novels instead of textbooks for pleasure would develop different
perspectives of their English reading abilities. In addition, Constantino predicted that her
students would focus more on the meaning of texts instead of individual words. For six weeks,
three of her students read romance novels for pleasure, while two of her students continued
reading university-level textbooks. Constantino’s hypothesis was correct; the students who read
romance novels began to concentrate on comprehension instead of vocabulary. Constantino
observed that these students increased in their understanding of English grammar and vocabulary
in both academic and pleasure reading, as well as in their certainty that they were capable of

reading in English. In addition, Constantino saw that the students who continued reading
textbooks appeared to make no progress, and were discouraged instead of empowered. While
Constantino clearly noticed the benefits of pleasure reading on her students, the students
themselves did not realize that reading novels had improved their comprehension (Constantino
505). Based on these study results, it is likely that undergraduates who read for pleasure may not
notice the positive impacts of reading on their work, similarly to how Constantino’s students did
not notice its effects on their assignments, or even their attitudes.

4. Academic benefits from pleasure reading

Establishing a habit of pleasure reading leads to numerous academic benefits. Thomas
Newkirk stated, “It is plausible—indeed, common sense—to believe that students who read
extensively will develop the fluency, word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension skills, and
confidence needed for proficient reading in…college.” Newkirk also argues that pleasure reading
results in definite academic benefits in college, most obviously reflected in students’
language-related assignments (Newkirk). In the previously mentioned study by Kathryn E. Kelly
and Lee B. Kneipp, the researchers cited a study about academic associations with pleasure
reading. This research study, conducted by David S. Miall and Don Kuiken, proved Newkirk’s
point by finding that students who read more have a greater understanding of academic material,
tolerance of complexity, openness to experience, and psychological absorption. Creativity had
also been found to correlate with motivation (Miall and Kuiken 37-58). Because Kelly and
Kneipp discovered that pleasure reading and creativity are positively correlated, undergraduates
who read more are likely to enjoy these benefits from both pleasure reading and creativity in
their academic pursuits (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144).

Pleasure reading results in improved writing. Sarah Macfadyen, an author for, which offers courses in grammar, proofreading, and editing, wrote a blog article
about the effects of pleasure reading on students’ writing. She quoted Stephen Krashen, author of
Writing: Research, Theory, and Applications, who explained that students who read more tend to
write well: “Those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading,
writing, grammar and vocabulary” (Macfadyen). Because writing is an essential skill for success
in college, where all assignments revolve around students’ writing abilities, it is crucial that
undergraduates seek to develop their writing abilities. Pleasure reading, the unexpected source
from which to improve writing skills, may become more appealing to students who wish to
become better writers.
Pleasure reading also leads to higher GPAs and effective critical thinking skills. In her
dissertation for the University of Tennessee, Kimberly T. Hawkins conducted a study about the
relationship between pleasure reading and critical thinking. To find out how undergraduates’
voluntary reading, critical thinking skills, and GPAs were related, Hawkins tested 119
undergraduates. Hawkins found several positive correlations among her variables, including
positive correlations between critical thinking and voluntary reading, GPA and critical thinking
skills, and voluntary reading and GPA (Hawkins). These results suggested how undergraduates
who regularly read for pleasure tend to have higher critical thinking skills and improved
academic performance. Critical thinking skills, while useful in every situation, may also help
students to become proficient test-takers by assisting them in their abilities to choose effectively
under pressure. These sources demonstrated that students who regularly read for pleasure have
higher GPAs, more developed critical thinking and language skills, and are adept at writing.

5. Non-academic benefits from pleasure reading

Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp referenced Constantino’s observations of her
English program students, citing her study as evidence that students who read for pleasure have
increased self-efficacy (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). Self-efficacy was defined as follows by
A. Flammer, a researcher from Switzerland’s University of Berne: “Self-efficacy refers to the
individual’s capacity to produce desired effects. Correspondingly, self-efficacy beliefs are the
beliefs about what means lead to what goals and about possessing the personal capacity to use
these means” (Flammer 13812). As a result, students with a habit of pleasure reading have
confidence in their abilities to achieve goals, whether academic or not.
As aforementioned, Kelly and Kneipp discovered that pleasure reading correlates with
creativity (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). The trait of creativity benefits individuals by leading
them to seek ways to express themselves creatively. In an article for Medical News Today, author
Maria Cohut described how various creative endeavors can lead to improvements in mental and
physical health. For example, she cited studies that showed how learning an instrument
positively impacts brain connectivity, while writing correlates with strong immune systems
(Cohut). Creative expression can benefit undergraduates by helping them find satisfaction and
fulfillment in creative work. Similarly, students can find connection with others through their
creative endeavors. While creativity provides non-academic benefits, it can also be necessary for
academic assignments that require creative thinking. Students with high creativity levels will
find it easier to excel in these assignments.
Pleasure reading causes undergraduates to have increased empathy. Sarah Macfadyen
summarized author Neil Gaiman’s findings about pleasure reading and empathy by declaring,

“Reading supplies a foundation of style and empathetic understanding in ways that formal
education cannot” (Macfadyen). As such, students who read for pleasure develop significant
levels of empathy. Empathy, or striving to understand others’ experiences, can also lead to
improved relationships.
Although writing is clearly an academic benefit, it is beneficial in students’ non-academic
lives as well. The ability to write effectively is the basis of any career, and could mean the
difference between having a job and being unemployed. In the words of author Stephen King, “If
you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write” (Macfadyen).
Consequently, reading affects undergraduates’ writing, and in turn, their careers and more.

6. Conclusion

Undergraduate students’ time is mainly occupied by their studies. However busy they are,
undergraduates should establish a habit of regular pleasure reading in order to receive academic
and non-academic benefits such as increased understanding of material and decreased loneliness.
While spending time on something that takes away from their studies seems counter-intuitive,
college students who read regularly will have an academic advantage. Students should read for
pleasure, but they must obviously do so within reasonable limits by making sure it does not
prevent them from completing their homework. Even if it is not an activity they would typically
devote time to, undergraduates should spend more time reading for pleasure because reading
leads to the development of traits that will assist them in academics and beyond, whether or not
they notice its effects. Next time I reach for a textbook, I hope to read at least a few pages of a
book for pleasure as well. Even if it means a few minutes away from my studies, the long-term
benefits of pleasure reading are worth it.

Works Cited

Bromfield, Jeffrey M., et al. “Beneficial Academic Orientations and Self-Actualization of
College Students.” Psychological Reports, vol. 100, 2007, pp. 604-612,
Cohut, Maria. “What are the health benefits of being creative?” Medical News Today, 16 Feb.
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