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Defense of Our Contract

As the semester winds to a close, the time for reflection is upon us. While this course might be ending early for some of the other COPLAC schools, it’s ending late for us, and I feel like I can finally give it my full attention. This post is an evaluation of to what extent Baylee and I followed our project contract for the construction of our website.


The pages that make up our website wound up being significantly different than what we had originally outlined. While we scrapped the “key players” section–because there were only about 3–I added branching pages to the “historical context” tab that I think are useful in breaking down the individual components that make up the case’s background. We also added the “About Us” and “About COPLAC” sections, which we hadn’t thought of when we built our contract. I feel comfortable with our deviations from the contract on this front because I think it shows a good amount of adaptation to the specific needs of our project as it developed and became more substantial.

I also think we successfully adhered to our mission statement, which was as follows:

The goal of this site is to build an informative and comprehensive account of the censorship dispute between young adult fiction author Ellen Hopkins and Whittier Middle School in Norman, Oklahoma is 2009. We intend to showcase the importance of the case to the state of literary censorship in Oklahoma and locate its place in the larger framework of historical and cultural movements related to censorship.

USAO 2019 Project contract

My only lament is that our account of the case could have been far more “comprehensive” if we had the voice of the complainant. Though we were not given her name, fear still lingers with me that we could have tried a little harder to get it and track her down. If we had that, we could have a more thorough “other side” of the story and its events.


I’m extremely happy with how the visual components of the website turned out. I owe lots of this to Baylee, because the time I spent trying to figure out the colors and layouts was unproductive and frustrating. I think the images we chose are sleek and coherent with the visual scheme. We succeeded in producing the “uncluttered, professional appearance” we outlined in the contract.

Though we had a list of tools outlined in the contract, the only one we used in the final product was TimelineJS. We never did an in-person interview, so we did not use Audacity or Soundcloud at any point. While I love how the timeline looks embedded in the site, I’m sad that we didn’t get to experiment with more. I’m also still bitter about the Venngage embedding debacle, because I think clickable infographics could have added a lot to our site’s navigation scheme. However, I think the relative simplicity of the site is appropriate for the subject and the goals of the site.

We also managed to make the site easily navigable, which our contract states as a major goal. While I would have liked to include a search bar, our site probably doesn’t have a large enough amount of content to justify one.

In Conclusion

Overall, I think Baylee and I accomplished what we set out to with this site. We produced a visually-appealing, user-friendly site with a good amount of information both factual and analytical. We kept the division of labor we outlined, playing to our individual strengths, and the result reflects that. It might not be the most complicated or fancy site in the world, but it is appropriate for our topic, and I consider it to be a success.

Reflecting on our Interview with Karin Perry

Last Monday, we finally received answers from Karin Perry to the questions we sent her! They are informative and to-the-point and will help tremendously in our efforts to accurately represent the events and environment surrounding the Whittier Middle School case.

Whittier Middle School (normanpublicschools.org)

What Perry Had to Say

When asked whether or not she thought Glass was appropriate for middle school students, she gave a resounding affirmative. She cites the fact that the book was only ever checked out by older middle school students at Whittier, 7th or 8th graders, rather than younger ones. She suggests, like the Reconsideration Committee did, that the book explores important topics like drug addiction, allowing students to “experience these things from the safety of a book.”

Interestingly, Perry does not think that the incident at Whittier was symptomatic of any larger trends in Oklahoma or Norman. In her 5 years at Whittier it was the only challenge case, and she believes it to be “an isolated incident.” For the section of our website about Norman, we will try to come up with potential explanations or influences on the case by looking at political, religious, and socioeconomic demographics for the area. However, Karin Perry may well be right; either way, her opinion is important in understanding how the event was perceived at Whittier.

When we asked her about the Norman Public Schools administration, Karin Perry expressed similar opinions to Ellen Hopkins herself: she characterized the administration’s response to the parent complaint as a “knee jerk reaction.” Instead of canceling Ellen’s visit to Whittier, she says they could have just exempted the parent’s student from the event. She was glad that the proper Reconsideration process was followed and that Hopkins’s books were eventually ruled appropriate, but she thinks the process should have been done faster. As of last week, she says the books are still on Whittier’s shelves. (yay!)

Ultimately, Karin Perry sees the heart of the issue to be that the Whittier parent should not have been able to affect the educational experiences of other children. When we asked her how the Whittier case fits into censorship more generally, she stressed the importance of being aware of the appropriate way to challenge a book, as well as the idea that one parent’s opposition shouldn’t result in an entire school missing out on opportunities like Hopkins’s event.

Moving Forward

Now that we have Karin Perry’s thoughts, we can use them to start adding meat to some of our website sections along with designating a section for the complete questions and answers. While Baylee works on the Norman and “About the Case” sections, I’m focusing on gathering permissions. I am still waiting to hear back from The Daily Oklahoman for permission to use clippings and headlines on the site. Pretty soon Baylee and I will sit down to work out final touches on the site to prepare it for the first draft’s due date!

Preparing to Interview Karin Perry

Whittier Middle School (normanpublicschools.org)

Why Karin Perry?

Karin Perry is the former librarian at Whittier Middle School who was responsible for organizing Ellen Hopkins’s visit to Norman. Aside from Hopkins herself and the anonymous (to us) complainant, she is the main player in our censorship case. She dealt directly with Ellen Hopkins and was responsible for moving her talk to a local church when the event was canceled by the administration. For these reasons, we think she will be a perfect candidate for a detailed interview to include on our website.

Although Perry now lives and works in Texas, she has graciously allowed us to send her interview questions by email. She is our key to understanding the general mood of Whittier’s student body and parent groups during the case; through her, we can hopefully get a better sense of what it was like to be working or going to school at Whittier during a heated challenge like this. By interviewing someone so directly involved, we will be able to gauge some of the real, human reactions to the Hopkins challenge: things we can’t get from newspaper articles.

Interview Questions

Because we already know much of how the story unfolded, we do not want to waste time asking for summaries of the key events. Several of our questions instead focus on why things happened, and how they fit into their social contexts. We want to know her perception of the dispute, including how she feels like the school responded.

Our questions are as follows:

What are your feelings about the suitability of Glass and the rest of the Crank series for middle school audiences?

Were you surprised by the complaint? How often did books get challenged while you worked there?

Were students and parents at Whittier Middle School aware that Ellen Hopkin’s books and visit were being challenged? If so, how did they seem to feel about it?

To what extent do you think the complainant’s issues with the book reflected concerns of the Whittier or Norman communities? Do you feel as though it was an isolated incident, or indicative of larger trends?

Do you feel like the administration of Norman Public Schools and Whittier Middle School, including Superintendent Siano, handled the Ellen Hopkins case effectively and fairly? Why or why not?

How did Ellen Hopkins handle the situation once her talk was moved?

What effect has this case had on the overall discussion about book censorship? Do you think censorship issues are important and still worth talking about?

While some of these questions are relatively broad, they are all worded to avoid simple, one-word answers. Although it would be ideal to conduct a face-to-face interview with Karin Perry, an email interview will allow her to potentially answer much more thoroughly than she would be able to in person. We will also not have to worry about recording, editing, and transcribing this interview, which will make it much easier to incorporate into our site. I’m looking forward to the extra dimensions and details Karin’s interview could provide to our understanding of the case!

Survey of Technology

Coming from a family of near-Luddites, the technology component of this course has been both very challenging and incredibly helpful. When it comes to building a website, though, I have a hard time being creative or imagining what types of tools are even appropriate to use, let alone how to use them. After surveying some available resources, I know I have more options, but it’s still difficult for me to visualize our end product as anything besides a relatively basic WordPress site. I imagine my confidence will build with time.

Technology on Campus

USAO’s campus seems to be adapting much more slowly to technological advancements in education than other universities. This is probably due to the fact that we are, A: in the middle of rural Oklahoma, B: dealing with a temperamental state government that funds public higher education very poorly, and C: have fewer than a thousand students total. A lot of the on-campus resources that would be useful for our project just aren’t there, but it makes sense because I can’t imagine how rarely they’d ever be used. So far, though, the only thing that might be a problem is the lack of audio recording equipment for interviews. I can use my phone, but I’d like to have better-quality recordings on the site.

Although there is no digital humanities lab or fancy equipment, we do have access to many online humanities databases that will prove especially helpful for the historical context section I’m putting together for the site, like the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Collection and the University of Oklahoma Digital Collections.

Site-Building Resources

All we know so far about incorporating fancy features into our WordPress site is that we definitely want to include a detailed timeline from TimelineJS. I am also interested in adding some nice infographics from either Infogram or Venngage, both of which facilitate some pretty nice-looking graphics. I think this might be a nice tool for explaining certain elements of the Ellen Hopkins censorship case in ways that are readable and user-friendly. I will probably end up picking one site over the other once I gain more familiarity with both. I would also like to continue using Coggle to organize my thoughts about the different sections of the site because I really enjoyed its interactivity and ease of use.

Using WordPress

So far, WordPress has been relatively easy for my technologically-incompetent brain to wrap itself around, but I looked around for some tutorials which have been helpful in demonstrating the different things I can do with the site. Learn.wordpress.com has sections about publishing content, personalizing themes, and (very helpful) definitions for WordPress lingo that I wasn’t familiar with.

Ultimately, this technology survey made the idea of building a website a lot less intimidating. A lot of these tools have very accessible tutorials and FAQ sections that will continue to be helpful down the road. I might still not get too fancy with my share of the website, but it’s nice knowing that I have the resources to make it what it needs to be so that it’s as reader-friendly and informative as I anticipate.

A Chat with USAO’s Research Librarian

Last Thursday, Baylee and I sat down with Nicole McMonagle, the resident research librarian at USAO’s Nash Library. We wanted to know what kinds of resources and archives the library had to aid with our research tasks and help us more fully understand and represent the 2009 Ellen Hopkins censorship issue in Norman.

Nash Library (photo courtesy of USAO’s The Trend)

Nicole was very excited about our chosen case. However, she was sad to inform us that the archives collection at Nash Library is small and still under renovation and digitization. The library has quite an extensive collection of newspapers, she said, but not much that would be relevant to Norman, which is about 30 minutes away from Chickasha. This was not anything I wasn’t expecting; USAO is a school of under a thousand students, so I knew there wouldn’t be a very extensive range of archival material available that didn’t directly pertain to the school and the surrounding area.

Regardless of the archival limitations, Nicole directed us to some very helpful online resources and databases to which the University provides access. Among these are additional newspaper databases, including the archives to the Daily Oklahoman dating back to 1904. We also have access to the digital archive collections of the University of Oklahoma, which is, like our case, also located in Norman. These should all be useful for us down the line, in case we start to lose our current reserach momentum.

Addison, the Nash Library cat (photo from library.usao.edu)

As for further research, Nicole suggested we make a visit to the Norman Public Library system to inquire about their archives. Setting up an appointment to speak with one of their librarians or archivists could help us access information and records closer to our case. She is confident that one of these libraries will have a cohesive collection of local Norman newspaper archives, which would be a great place to look for articles about the controversy at Whittier Middle School. With this in mind, Baylee and I will work on contacting someone from a Norman public library this week. She also suggested we reach out to Karin Perry, this Whittier librarian who won the Hopkins visit and who facilitated it off school grounds when it was challenged. Perry now lives and works in Texas, but we are planning to contact her about holding a Skype or Zoom interview.

Overall, our interview with Nicole assured us that there is no shortage of materials to plow through if we reach a dead-end in our research. We have many different paths through which to direct our research this week. Nicole also said she would keep an eye out for other notable Oklahoma censorship cases, in case we find that ours still doesn’t have enough material.