Red Bench Discusses Banned Books

Pairing with Interfaith Action of Central Texas, the ACC Service-Learning program held a Red Bench Dialogue event on “Banned Books” at the Eastview campus on Oct. 24.

By Hailey Williams

Photos by Kyle Sandiego

Pairing with Interfaith Action of Central Texas, the ACC Service-Learning program held a Red Bench Dialogue event on “Banned Books” at the Eastview campus on Oct. 24. Students were given the opportunity to discuss an important issue in a safe environment at a dinner-party like event. 

Interfaith Action works closely with service-learning students as the creators of the Red Bench program. 

“Several years ago, renowned UT Professor Dr. Betty Sue Flowers recommended that organizations place red benches in public spaces. The idea was simple — by sitting on one of these red benches you were signaling to others that you were open to a conversation that really matters. The red bench is a symbol of a place for conversations that ‘cultivate peace and respect.’ The Red Bench program has quickly grown into a genuine community of sharing. We focus on ideas and issues that are addressed by all of the great wisdom traditions and ‘topical’ subjects that face our community and nation.” Interfaith Action of Central Texas, (2023). Interfaith Action The Red Bench

Framing the event with a five-minute speech, Dean of Library Services Keri Moczygemba had the opportunity to give her insight on the topic before conversations started. 

“As a librarian and lifelong learner and educator, it is important to understand the opinions around the topic of banned books, which is ultimately censorship,” Moczygemba said. “For controversial topics such as book banning and censorship, we often see arguments for and against, but our reality includes caveats, personal beliefs, and scenarios that don’t fit neatly into ‘for’ or ‘against.’ Engaging in conversation in a safe and supportive environment is a significant choice to expand your mindset and learn about viewpoints other than your own.”

Service-learning students hold an event each semester with the help of their advisor Linda Cox. 

“Working with students at ACC brings me hope for the future,’ Cox said. “We are definitely experiencing a surge in religious, political, and other forms of polarization, but our students are building bridges and helping complete strangers make connections with one another. Simone Talma Flowers from iACT led three training sessions for our students to become table hosts at the event, and each one was really amazing and transformative. Every time a new group of people gathers around a table for a Red Bench conversation, even in the training sessions, something new arises–it’s always different, and it’s exciting to see and feel the connection. Our students are great leaders, modeling how to share from their own experience, listen to others, and allow honest and safe communication to take place. We leave wanting more–more conversation with the people at the table, and more conversations like this with others in our daily lives.”

New ACC Chancellor Russell Lowery-Hart makes an appearance at the Red Bench dialogue on October 24, 2023. Photo by Kyle Sandiego

Students participating discussed the night’s topic with complete strangers at their table. 

“I think the organizers did a really good job of creating an atmosphere in which people would be able to have respectful conversations,” attendee Zoila Watson said. “Having complete strangers share a meal at a table together, and converse over a topic, with certain guidelines in place, allowed for good listening. Additionally, we were also able to share about our roots in a particular faith and again, do so in a respectful manner. Most of that is missing in the public sphere- especially in social media platforms where the loudest most extreme stances get the most traction and attention.”