Fun Home is an award-winning graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel that’s been turned into a hit Broadway musical. It’s about painful childhoods, sexuality, and recognizing that one’s parents have possibly unforgivable flaws; it also features a lesbian protagonist whose father cheats on his wife with men. So, Christian students starting their first year at Duke are refusing to read it.
Bechdel’s book was named as part of a summer reading list for incoming freshmen, but a group of students are protesting its inclusion. As Christian Nightmares points out, after Brian Grasso posted a message on a closed Facebook group for students to share his reservations about reading the book as a Christian, many revealed their own misgivings about the text.
The Duke Chronicle reports that Grasso claims to have received many messages from students who agree with his point of view but may have been too afraid to stand up for themselves. He also says that it’s surprising that Duke wouldn’t think of people like him and his supporters when they chose the books for the reading list.
“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Brian Grasso wrote on the Duke University Class of 2019 Facebook page, a closed group. He cited its “graphic visual depictions of sexuality,” as part of his reason. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind,” he added. “It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”
It seems, though, that Duke had people exactly like Grasso in mind. The book, which does feature some nudity (although I’ve read it twice and can’t recall anything resembling pornography), also features a frank and honest discussion about sexuality and coming to terms with one’s own sexual orientation. It’s a perfect book for incoming college freshmen: it’s not so controversial, seemingly, that it would cut a school down the middle, but it presents many, many opportunities for discussion. The students protesting the book are the ones who would most benefit from it.
The AV Club reports that the book list is just a suggestion, so these students don’t even have to read the book. But, if Duke removes Fun Home from the list, it’ll set a dangerous precedent. Students—particularly those who can’t tell the difference between nudity and pornography; is it pornography only because the characters are gay?—are not the dictators of their own education, and it would be much less of an education if they were allowed to believe themselves as such.
Sherry Zhang, a senior who is a member of the committee that chose the summer reading list, told The Chronicle that the discussion about the book has been “very respectful” and she hopes that the students who didn’t read the book can talk about those reasons instead of protesting the book altogether.
Grasso says he’ll continue taking this stand against his non-required reading:
“There is so much pressure on Duke students, and they want so badly to fit in,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we don’t have to read the book.”
True. Do what you like, Grasso. But, as one commenter on The Chronicle pointed out, “standing up for ignorance is not courageous.”
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