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Off-White Diversity: Reshma Saujani Condemns Ban of Book Series Published by Her Company Girls Who Code

Off-White Diversity: Reshma Saujani Condemns Ban of Book Series Published by Her Company Girls Who Code

  • The Indian American activist condemns the move, calling it a direct attack on the movement her nonprofit supporting women in computer science.

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, has condemned the Central York School District in Pennsylvania for banning a book series published by her company. “The Girls Who Code” series, which chronicles a group of young girls and their adventures as part of a coding club at their school, was recently added to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans. 

The list, which is updated annually by the nonprofit, includes books that are “restricted or diminished for either limited or indefinite periods of time.” The most recent update reflected books banned during the period from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. 

Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, “to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does,” according to the website. She told Business Insider she was “just shocked” when she first heard about the ban. “This is about controlling women and it starts with controlling our girls and what info they have access to.”

She told the publication that her international nonprofit uses these stories to teach kids to code. “It felt very much like a direct attack on the movement we’ve been building to get girls coding,” she said. “Especially in districts that don’t have the technology or have disparate Wi-Fi, books are a great way to learn to code and a way to equalize access to coding.”

Ben Hodge and Patricia Jackson, high school English teachers from the Central York district who helped fight the ban, told Politico that “the suburban public school district serving 40,000 people removed the ‘Girls Who Code’ series and a range of other children’s books with any tincture of off-white diversity from its classrooms for a 10-month period between 2020 and 2021 before local activists mounted a successful campaign to reverse the ban.”

They added that “a group of conservative activists on the school board opposed educators’ efforts to create a list of diversity resources for the school district in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in spring 2020.” Although the material was intended for staff development or for school libraries, not for curricular changes, “the activists convinced the school board to ban a list of roughly 300 books they deemed problematic — among them, the ‘Girls Who Code’ series, whose protagonists are Black, Latina, Asian and Muslim.”

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The year-old ban resurfaced this past weekend after Pen America published the nationwide index of banned books from the 2021-2022 school year.

Removing the books not only hinders visibility for women in technology fields,” she said, “but also diversity in the industry, as many of the protagonists in the series are young girls of color.” She continued: “You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said,” adding that “they don’t want girls to learn how to code because that’s a way to be economically secure.”

Jackson and Hodges told Politico that the ban has had a lasting impact on girls in the Central York School District. “We have all kinds of programs where girls can get certified, where they can get involved, and we just cannot get girls interested,” said Jackson. “What sane person would ban such a book, particularly when we’re trying to get girls into tech?”

The four books in the series — “The Friendship Code,” “Team BFF: Race to the Finish!,” “Lights, Music, Code!,” and “Spotlight on Coding Club!”— are written by Stacia Deutsch, Michelle Schusterman, and Jo Whittemore. The books were joined by other recent additions to the PEN list — several of which tackle racial, women’s, and LGBTQ+ rights issues — including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Speak,” and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.”

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