Duke Freshmen Reject Tragicomic, Calling it "Pornographic"


August 25, 2015
by 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.

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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Discuss

Share your thoughts and perhaps thousands of students will benefit from your unique insight on the subject!



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Victoria T.  on  9/9/2015 8:19:56 PM commented:

I don't think that the students should be forced to read the book. Perhaps the school can provide an alternate book that explores the themes that the school intends to discuss, without being so graphic. The students could choose between the 2 books. This would mean that the professor might have to discuss both books in class which could still be problematic. Or perhaps the students would be separated into classes based on which book they chose. I understand that the college experience is supposed to broaden the mind. But I think that there are other ways in which one's mind can be broadened without reading this particular book--especially as a freshman.

Elizabeth K.  on  8/29/2015 11:27:06 AM commented:

I've never read this book, but if it is pornographic, it objectifies humans, so I would also refuse to read it. It is one thing to discuss "religious beliefs" and another to discuss moral values. Stop attacking Christianity long enough to look at the actual issue. And this argument has nothing to do with opening up one's mind. There are plenty of other ways to do that, like reading a written summary of this book for instance.

SA  on  8/28/2015 11:50:15 PM commented:

I think that it was very brave of those students to stand up for what they believe in. It can be so easy to go with the flow and do as everyone else does just because it's popular or what is required by a teacher. Political science teachers wouldn't require all their students to read Hitler's Mien Kampf even though it would "open your mind to a new perspective." Why should other books that some could argue are just as bad in virtue be forced into those students minds if they don't believe in that kind of lifestyle?

Samuel M.  on  8/28/2015 7:18:20 PM commented:

While I may not understand where these Duke students are coming from or agree with what they are saying I believe that they do have a right to refuse to read a book if they feel that it goes against their morals or their religion. I also feel that the Professor should simply provide them with an alternate assignment preferably something "long" in length.

Kendall C.  on  8/27/2015 1:38:43 PM commented:

A lot of you are saying that it's in the bible and its wrong because of your beliefs. But it's not like you've never sinned in your life and you choose to sin. No one forced you to drink underage or have sex, that was your choice. Don't pick which sin matters and which don't. And if you all listened and respected what the bible said, you wouldn't eat shellfish, get divorced, masterbate, or wear jewelry.

Kendall c.  on  8/27/2015 1:33:26 PM commented:

I think people should have to read it. It may go against your beliefs, but you always have to keep an open mind and be open to new things. You must respect other people's beliefs. If you don't try to listen and understand new things you will miss out on many chances

Jesse Reed  on  8/27/2015 4:14:00 AM commented:

Simply put, it's an assignment. In the future, these students will probably have to do something at their jobs that may go against their personal beliefs. Would most employers accept the reasoning of "this project goes against my personal beliefs so I didn't do it"? If it won't work on your second grade teacher; it won't work on your boss.

KR  on  8/26/2015 6:14:08 PM commented:

To think that some people can live inside this little bubble of theirs is not only naive and ignorant...but just sad. You are going to meet people who don't agree with your morals. But again, just because you read something doesn't mean you agree with it. You don't have to. As long as you look for the MEANING of the text, your job is done. I recently read A Clockwork Orange. Does this mean I agree with every violent act Alex carried out? Of course not! Did I find the book to be thought-provoking and interesting? Yes indeed. The bottom line is: It's important to jump out of your comfort zone. That's where the best learning is found. You can't possibly expect to learn new things if you are constantly looking in all the same places. You have to reach out and grab it in places you've never even dreamed of.

JT  on  8/26/2015 11:00:41 AM commented:

Some have commented about college being a place where your mind is opened to new a different ways of thinking, but college is about an education. College is about gaining a degree to be able to get a job better than McD's. Now those who aim to utilize it further are more than welcome to, but those who go to college to obtain a job shouldn't have to compromise their beliefs or lose out on their religious freedoms. Someone else said are their beliefs so weak that they can't read it, but I challenge that person by saying is our academic system so weak that it can't find a book that engages your mind with out extreme sexual content in it?

Devin S  on  8/26/2015 10:23:14 AM commented:

wow that's so interesting, I believe the teachers should of thought of an alternative.

Tiffy B.  on  8/26/2015 8:10:54 AM commented:

As Christians we are entilted to religous freedoom. I feel that this nation has attacked Christianity. If the student was another religion like Muslim would there be any question of his overreacting? At my old college i refused to read some article about horoscopes because the bible distinctly warns against fortune telling and sorcery. My teacher did not put up a fuss she simply gave me alternative reading material and that was that. Provide Christian students with alternate reading material and let's move on. I believe if you can find in the bible where it's wrong you should not be forced to read it. We still have religous freedom right?

Mary Johnson  on  8/26/2015 1:36:19 AM commented:

I applaud the students decision to not read "Fun Home" based on its pornographic nature and conflict with their faith. I highly doubt that the same students who believe that it allows "you to open your mind to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar", would be so readily "open minded" to read, a book denouncing the whole coming out lifestyle. The "understanding" is very one sided these days.

Ashley Lawrence  on  8/26/2015 12:06:16 AM commented:

I think as Christians we need to learn the value of diction and not take things so personal. But.. There's a fine line in being open minded and contradicting your morals. I think we Christians need to find that "fine" line of embracing vs. accepting.

Derek W.  on  8/25/2015 11:57:09 PM commented:

There should be another option. I personally don't watch rated R movies, so the students should be able to say that they don't agree with the message of the book and be given another reading option. College is about learning, but that doesn't mean you should have to compromise your standards.

Tim P.  on  8/25/2015 9:41:58 PM commented:

There is a difference between learning about different beliefs to better clarify what you believe and reading something that focuses your mind on something wrong in a less-than constructive way. While I have never read the book, and I don't deny that it may provoke some deep thoughts, is it really worth compromising your conscience? The fact that this book is a GRAPHIC novel is a key part of all this. The book's message can be communicated in a way that doesn't tempt people with pornography. We put out what we put in, and as a Christan, I applaud these students for being willing to stand up for what they know is right. Even if you don't agree with their decision itself, wouldn't you want them to be clear and confident in staying true to their Christianity?

ML  on  8/25/2015 9:41:53 PM commented:

So, having faith means never confronting your beliefs? Is your faith so weak that it would not survive the challenge?

Joshua H.  on  8/25/2015 8:55:18 PM commented:

"But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." - Ephesians 5:3 Well done to all the Duke students who participated in the boycott. I dare say that those who believe that Duke students should be "forced" to read the book need to open their minds to acknowledge that there are other views out their - people who will go so far to defend their personal purity that they will avoid reading a book.

Hannah B.  on  8/25/2015 8:46:52 PM commented:

While I respect this woman for being able to open up and share her story with the world, I agree with these students. Being strong in my Christian beliefs and morals, myself, I completely understand the decision that these students are making. It's not about not wanting to step outside of their comfort zones, it's not about challenging their thinking, this decision that they are making is to protect their own hearts and minds from something that they do not feel is godly and holy to read. Christianity is not just a mindset, it's a way of life. Telling a student that they must read a book such as this one in order to receive a good grade is like telling a vegetarian that they must go home and eat a piece of meat unless they want their grades to suffer. While this analogy may seem a bit extreme, I feel that this is where the students choosing not to read this book are coming from. Again, I completely respect and admire the author of this book and I am in strong support of stepping outside of your comfort zone - especially with different ways of thinking - I feel that this book should not be required reading due to some of the material.

Hanna S  on  8/25/2015 5:31:12 PM commented:

I feel that college is a lot of seeing things in a new way and stepping outside of your comfort zone. This girl wasn't being asked to read it aloud or to write something similar. She was just simply asked to read it, and I'm assuming like my freshman english classes, to discuss the content. If that made her uncomfortable she didnt have to join in. I'm not sure its fair to treat this girl differant.

B McCorkle  on  8/25/2015 5:18:30 PM commented:

It is a shame. My cousin Beth Malone is the lead actress in the play Fun Home. People have become so self involved that they no longer respect the opinions of others. The Duke freshman claim their Christian values when it's convenient, but it is a different story when they are at athletic events drunk and making fools of themselves.

Roselia R  on  8/25/2015 4:48:13 PM commented:

In the real world you are face with many sexual allusions and many books and life senarios depicting a sexual theme. One must realize that a book is merely content and only affects a person to the extent that one allows it to. In a university as prestigious as Duke University one must consider the morally challenging topics that will be presented. To deny the opportunity of expanding one's knowledge simply because the topic is uncomfortable is naive. One might discover that the topic is interesting.

Natura S.  on  8/25/2015 4:27:12 PM commented:

I find their blatant closed mindedness to be saddening. Can they honestly not deal with the fact that this doesn't conform to their white privilege lives? It is certainly not about it being pornographic or overly sexual, it's about their homophobia and disregard for people whose lives differ from their own. Books such as Pillars of the Earth, which depict in detail heterosexual sexual activity, are read by high school students with little to no complaint, but once homosexuality is introduced, people get up in arms. It's horrible how some of the "brightest students" at Duke can't illuminate their dark prejudices by reading controversial literature.

Cory P.  on  8/25/2015 3:54:34 PM commented:

While I understand how reading novels with the sort of graphic imagery this one includes may be uncomfortable, it is not compromising your beliefs just by reading it. Reading gives you insight and perspective into another world, another way of thinking. And by doing so it can either reinforce or challenge your own beliefs. But that's exactly what college is about, growth. Seeing other perspectives can strengthen your own beliefs and help them grow with you. There's no harm in that. It's just ridiculous to me that some actually view reading a piece of literature as some sort of disease or crime. This world is full of differing opinions and beliefs and that's what makes it all so beautiful. I am a Christian myself, and while I may not agree with plenty works of literature, I enjoy reading them and getting different perspectives on things, because this world is filled with so much more than just the Christian point of view.

Michael P.  on  8/25/2015 3:11:49 PM commented:

Why are they going to college then? College is about confronting ideas and topics that makes one uncomfortable. I can't believe one student had the audacity to say, "you open to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar." Uh yeah. This comment and the others remind me of Kristin Dunst's character from Mona Lisa Smile. She gave Julia Roberts character a lot of flack for challenging the class, to think outside the box, and to define one's own opinions. This is what I feel that these students are emulating. They are afraid and are scared of the possibility of liking something outside their little bubble. Until they read the novel for themselves, which I have not, they have no leg to stand on because how can one truly have an opinion on something they do not know intimately.

Derris L.  on  8/25/2015 2:43:25 PM commented:

While I do enjoy creative writing, as a Christian I do agree with being cautious considering that novel. Now I'm not saying that what Miss Bechdel went through isn't worth the attention. However if her message isn't godly; I would not be too excited about reading this either.

T.A  on  8/25/2015 2:12:55 PM commented:

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