Duke Freshmen Reject Tragicomic, Calling it "Pornographic"

Duke Freshmen Reject Tragicomic, Calling it "Pornographic"
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Students are notorious for avoiding summer reading lists – whether they'd rather spend time outdoors or simply find the list dull, many walk into the first day of class without having read the book title. However, incoming freshmen at Duke University are boycotting and refusing to read Alison Bechdel's family tragicomic Fun Home - they claim that the "pornographic" graphic novel conflicts with their Christian morals.

Bechdel's memoir recounts her traumatic childhood with a closeted and occasionally-abusive father, as well as her own coming out of the closet experience. A strong portion of the novel has sexual themes and nudity, which allegedly discomforted some Duke freshmen. In particular, Brian Grasso had posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page that he refused to read the novel "because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality," and further added, "I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it." Grasso was not the only student disturbed by the novel – freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst added, "the nature of 'Fun Home' means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature." Other students objected claiming it allows "you to open your mind to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar."

Many liberal arts colleges and universities include the 2006 novel in their curriculum, as scholars and professors believe it 'is a unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront." This was the educational goal for Duke University's Common Experience Summer Reading Program. Although Fun Home has won five Tony awards and was turned into a Tony-winning Broadway musical, has sold over a quarter-million copies and was lauded by Time Magazine as the best book of 2006, college students are still encouraged to voice their own opinions. So are the students really overreacting when they refuse to read a book that goes against their beliefs? Or should all students be forced to read a book that, although may make them uncomfortable, can give insight to a different wave of thinking and life?

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