Sexual Harassment allegations “muddy the waters” around Sherman Alexie


9th Grade ELA teacher Roxanne Becker spoke about the Alexie allegations. “His work deals with understanding your identity and choices you make about how you are. I can’t fathom another book that would do that job. But, I also can’t fathom teaching it knowing what he has done,” said Becker

Gabe Chang-Deutsch, Staff Writer

Disclaimer; this article contains mentions of sexual assault and r*pe.

Sherman Alexie has provided an important resource in Language Arts classrooms all over South for years but new allegations have changed how his literature and art is thought about in the English department. “As a group we are having conversations about how and whether we will teach his work moving forward… You have to figure out what it means to you. Sometimes you appreciate the art for what it is without the artist,” said Open teacher Michelle Ockman.

Sherman Alexie has been accused of sexual harassment by many female writers, especially Native writers. They say that Alexie has tried to force himself upon them, touched them inappropriately, and made them exchange forced affection for his support of their work in the form of reviews and endorsements. Alexie is viewed by many as the preeminent Native writer right now and this power had allowed his actions to go unchallenged in the publishing world and unknown within his readership. “That these allegations came out does not mean his writing is less brilliant. It kind of muddy’s the waters over whether his work can stand on its own,” said Fabel.

Alexie’s books are used by the 9th Grade Liberal Arts teachers, 10th grade Open teachers, and the All Nations program. His works that have been used include Reservation Blues, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven. 10th grade teacher Ted Fabel said, “we taught Reservation Blues with a focus on generational and historical trauma and I taught Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian as a coming of age novel.”

Many of these books deal with themes around cultural trauma, growing up, colonialism, and both sexual and childhood abuse. “In quarter two, [we use] the Diary to show what happens when a group comes in a colonized another minority. We look at what happened to those minorities? Who is writing that history. We also use it to show the hero’s journey,” said 9th grade ELA teacher Roxanne Becker. Teachers have found his work as an important and instructive way of showing Native life and history.

These new allegations have elicited many deep and strong reactions within South’s english department. Alexie’s writing is informed by his trauma as a Native person and as the victim of rape at the age of 10. This trauma is understood by him as extremely damaging. The knowledge that he has inflicted similar traumas on other writers is very troubling for many english teachers. This is also magnified with Native women, as Native women have faced gencodial sexual violence inside their communities and by the United States government for years as an ongoing part of colonialism. 1 in 2 Native women have experience sexual violence, according to the Indian Law Resource Center.

This violence that Alexie inflicted is seen by many as partly influenced by his own childhood. “I can totally see where this behavior came from. You know this is part of this trauma, his mom was raped. He, looks nothing like his siblings so he grew up with that feeling; ‘Am I the product of rape?’ You can’t accept the art knowing full well this is what he was doing,” said Becker.

There has already been a lot of backlash around this new knowledge. For example, Alexie declined to take the American Library Association’s Carnegie Award for Nonfiction. Many scholarships named after him have changed their names. Even more stunningly, his memoir’s paperback publishing has been stopped indefinitely. These reactions have severely tarnished his image inside the publishing world.

South’s teachers will either not teach the books next year or have critical discussions about his work. “His work deals with understanding your identity and choices you make about how you are. I can’t fathom another book that would do that job. But, I also can’t fathom teaching it knowing what he has done,” said Becker. While many hope to be able to teach a different author, cost issues may hamper that. They would need 300 new books and with a tight budget it is unknown if that is a possibility. “I don’t know what funds I have to buy another book in my department. I just don’t know where I can get the money,” said Becker.

Other teachers have made the outright decision not to teach his work. “I think I’m going to take a year break on teaching his work at least until …. I see where this situation goes and what Alexie’s responses are. I want to come to my own terms on how I feel about the author, with on the record sexual assault allegations… Does still promoting his work allow the actions to be dismissed?” said Fabel.