Britain’s The University of Chester has cautioned its incoming English students that the assigned study of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in one of their courses could “lead to some difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity.”
Set to be assigned as part of the university English department’s “Approaches to Literature” alongside Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’s inclusion earned a warning from course leader Dr. Richard Leahy.
Leahy added a warned that his students reading of the Harry Potter book could clash with specific theories they would be learning in class, particularly those relating to critical race and social justice theory.
According to The Daily Mail, whose staff reportedly viewed the reading list to which the content warning is attached, Dr. Leahy informs students, “Although we are studying a selection of Young Adult texts on this Module, the nature of the theories we apply to them can lead to some difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity.”
“These topics will be treated objectively, critically, and most crucially, with respect,” he continues. “If anyone has any issues with the content, please get in touch with the Module Leader to make them aware.”
Notably, this warning was not applied to any other reading lists reviewed by The Daily Mail.
Asked for comment on the institution’s decision to affix the warning solely to the reading list featuring Rowling’s work, a University of Chester spokesperson told The Daily Mail, “Those studying literature should expect to encounter all the issues, challenges and complexity of humankind. As a University we promote rather than avoid discussion on these.”
“We do of course include a generic paragraph on our reading lists to draw attention to the opportunity for individual students to talk with tutors if anything is particularly difficult because of its personal relevance,” they continued. “Tutors know how to signpost students to specialist support which is occasionally needed but often the tutorial or seminar discussion is sufficient for a student to put an issue in context.”
The spokesperson added, “the example paragraph you picked out is generic – rather than specific to the three texts you mention.”
Pushed for further explanation as to why said paragraph was only included on Dr. Leahy’s reading list, the spokesperson explained, “For further clarification the Department agreed a standard form of words for level 4 students – usually joining from school or college.”
“The module picked out uses this generic text and an additional paragraph just to reiterate that young adult texts can also prompt important conversations,” the spokesperson concluded.
The University of Chester’s decision to warn their students about Rowling’s work comes just a month after another British school, The Boswells School in Chelmsford, Essex, removed the author’s name from one of their houses over their disagreement with her views on transgender issues.
“Following numerous requests by students and staff we are reviewing the name of our red house ‘Rowling’ and in light of J.K Rowling’s comments and viewpoints surrounding trans people,” the school said of the change. “[Rowling’s] views on this issue do not align with our school policy and school beliefs – a place where people are free to be.”
The house was renamed to Holmes after Olympic gold medalist Dame Kelly Holmes.
Amidst the longstanding and still-ongoing outrage over her views, Rowling took to Twitter on December 29th to explain to the public that she “never said there are only two genders,” clarifying that she believes “there are innumerable gender identities.”
The author also elaborated on her actual concerns, stating that her focus in the wider conversation regarding transgender issues was on “whether sex or gender identity should form the basis of decisions on safeguarding, provision of services, sporting categories and other areas where women and girls currently have legal rights and protections.”
“Using the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably obscures the central issue of this debate,” she concluded.
What do you make of the University of Chester’s decision to add a content warning to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!