College Freshmen Refuse to Read "Fun Home" Novel Citing Christian Beliefs and "Pornography"

News   College Freshmen Refuse to Read "Fun Home" Novel Citing Christian Beliefs and "Pornography"
 
Incoming freshmen at Duke University, the highly regarded private research university located in Durham, NC, are refusing to read a title on their summer reading list — Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home," which inspired this year's Tony Award-winning musical of the same name.

According to Duke's independent student newspaper The Chronicle, freshman Brian Grasso posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page July 26 that he would not read the book "because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality" and that it would "compromise" his "personal Christian moral beliefs to read it."

The autobiographical graphic novel by Bechdel focuses on the relationship with her father, a gay man living a lie who is struggling with his sexuality. Alison is also gay and exploring her relationship with females throughout the coming-of-age story.

Grasso's post prompted numerous replies from other incoming freshman who felt uncomfortable reading "Fun Home" as well as others in support, who said that there is literary value to the piece.

The Chronicle reported that freshman Marivi Howell-Arza wrote, "Reading the book will allow you to open your mind to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar."

Still, many responded that the content made them feel uncomfortable and that the graphic nature of the piece was inappropriate. Freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst wrote in an email to The Chronicle, "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."

A statement from Michael Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Duke University, issued to Time Warner Cable News, follows:

Like many universities and community, Duke has had a summer reading for many years to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of the class (you can see the most recent selections at https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/new-students/common-experience).

The reading is selected by a committee of students, and staff, who then solicit feedback from other members of the Duke community. Fun Home was ultimately chosen because it is a unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront. It is also one of the most celebrated graphic novels of its generation, and the theatrical adaption won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and four others, in 2015. As we have every year, we were fortunate to have the author join us on campus for a lively discussion of the book during orientation week.

The summer reading is entirely voluntary — it is not a requirement, nor is there a grade or record of any student's participation. With a class of 1,750 new students from around the world, it would be impossible to find a single book that that did not challenge someone's way of thinking. We understand and respect that, but also hope that students will begin their time at Duke with open minds and a willingness to explore new ideas, whether they agree with them or not.

However, students still claimed that having "Fun Home" on the list changed their opinion of Duke altogether.

"I thought to myself, 'What kind of school am I going to?'" Elizabeth Snyder-Mounts told The Chronicle.

Grasso said that, by writing his initial post on Facebook, he wanted to make sure students with similar Christian or moral beliefs did not feel alone.

"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."

This isn't the first time the work has faced controversy. In 2014, South Carolina lawmakers attempted to withdraw funding from the school for including the source material in its curriculum.

Fun Home changed history this year, winning Best Book of a Musical (Lisa Kron) and Best Original Score (Jeanine Tesori and Kron); Tesori and Kron are the first all-female writing team to win a Tony Award for a musical's score. The show also took home Best Musical and was acclaimed for its content. 

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