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Some Duke University Christians refuse to read Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’ (UPDATED)

From The Duke Chronicle:

For some members of the Class of 2019, the choice of ?Fun Home? as a summer reading book was anything but fun.

Several incoming freshmen decided not to read ?Fun Home? because its sexual images and themes conflicted with their personal and religious beliefs. 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,? igniting conversation among students. The graphic novel, written by Alison Bechdel, chronicles her relationship with her father and her issues with sexual identity.

?I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,? Grasso wrote in the post.

UPDATE: The university has released a statement explaining how Fun Home was selected and underscores that the book is not an assigned reading – it’s completely voluntary.

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.

Community Comments

#1 Mike Lester
August/25/2015
@ 8:36 am

In the future at least one homosexual experience will be required on a job application.

#2 Rose Roever
August/25/2015
@ 10:56 am

Thanks so much for publishing this article. I wouldn’t have known about Bechdel’s book if I hadn’t read the article.
I am anxious to read the book. I have just ordered it from Amazon.
Thanks again.

#3 Ben Carlsen
August/25/2015
@ 1:51 pm

First of all, Rose Roever, make sure to also read ?Are You My Mother?? as well, which is Bechdel?s ?sequel? of sorts to ?Fun Home? and is about her relationship with her mother. It?s also brilliant and a great read.

Secondly, do people realize that this is a true story? That this is someone?s real life? That this stuff actually happened to her? That Alison Bechdel is a real person? I don?t understand how it can be ?against your moral Christian beliefs? to read about someone?s life, no matter how graphic. If it?s fiction, I can kind of get it, but when it?s autobiographical, it just baffles me. Persepolis is another one that some people have refused to read because of certain depictions of sex and violence. Again, Marjane Sartrapi is a real person, and she tells her real life story. I don?t see how it?s possible to be against that.

#4 Mike Peterson
August/25/2015
@ 7:03 pm

It’s voluntary reading, but the Christian Taliban kids are raising a fuss because it’s not politically correct. (Political Correctness can exist on the right fringe as well as on the left, of course. Any fair observer realizes that.)

#5 Terry LaBan
August/26/2015
@ 8:00 am

There are, in fact, no graphic sex scenes in “Fun Home”. It IS hard to see why a reading a memoir would violate anyone’s religious principals. I’ll bet they’d feel differently if one of those Christian counselors converted her to straightness at the end.

Hey Mike Lester–given those future qualifications, would you get the job?

#6 John Cole
August/26/2015
@ 12:29 pm

“Willful ignorance” evidently is a metric factored into Duke’s admissions policy.

#7 Hilary Price
August/26/2015
@ 4:34 pm

Hey Mike Lester!
Getting a job is really difficult, so I’m PSYCHED I finally have an edge on this one!

#8 Mike Lester
August/26/2015
@ 5:31 pm

I get it: “Bake me a cake” and “Read this book” are now redundant and saying the same thing twice.

Let’s take another pop culture example. Christians aren’t into misogyny either. If they pass on listening to Dr. Dre (who recently got a pass because…well, he’s Dr. Dre and straight outta culpability) are they racists? Not comparing sexuality to race but I am arguing for freedom to choose when given a choice. These kids were given a choice. It’s available to all of us and the free exercise thereof shouldn’t ostracize you. But lets go after Christian kids who didn’t choose the cool kids book. Meanwhile peace loving islamists -try as they might just can’t teach gays to fly off of three story buildings.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/03/05/dnt-damon-isis-gay-executions.cnn/video/playlists/isis-power-an-terror/

fwiw: the update points out this was an option. But the headline even after the update still says “REFUSE TO READ”. Nobody refused anything. They exercised a choice. College used to be about education. Now it’s about re-education.

#9 Chris powell
August/26/2015
@ 5:52 pm

Thank you Mike. The key word is Choice. Even the choice not to do something.

#10 Mike Peterson
August/27/2015
@ 3:29 am

Mike, they had the choice to either pick a college where they would engage in conversation with people of different beliefs and values, or a college based on Christian Taliban limitations, of which there are several.

To choose a school that obviously encourages thoughtful discussions and then whine because you are being asked to think is like walking into a bar and complaining because they serve liquor.

To repeat myself, the rightwing’s constant demand that everything be politically correct is bothersome to people who value freedom.

#11 Mark Juhl
August/27/2015
@ 6:38 am

Mike P. your religious bigotry is showing.

#12 Terry LaBan
August/27/2015
@ 7:12 am

Mike, not that it’s relevant, but Dr. Dre has in fact been widely criticized for his and NWA’s misogyny, both back in the day and now. But the point isn’t whether or not the Christian kids had a choice, it’s that they made their choice for stupid and spurious reasons. And speaking of relevance, what exactly does it all have to do with radical Islam?

#13 Mike Lester
August/27/2015
@ 8:31 am

Mr. LaBan: “But the point isn?t whether or not the Christian kids had a choice, it?s that they made their choice for stupid and spurious reasons.”

Mr. Peterson: Making a choice contrary to a liberal agenda is not a “whine” and I’m pretty sure a for profit institution like Duke Univ. doesn’t want to put up a “no Christians” sign in the quad. Somebody asked these kids why they chose not to read a graphic novel about homosexuality and published it to shame them for non-conformity. How else would you know about it?

I can’t argue w/ either position. Not on the strength of the argument but on the pure and self-important illogic. There’s a reason comedians don’t play colleges anymore. The pc is strong.

by the way: what ever happened to wit on TDC? Did it die? We used to have a back/forth w/out acrimony. I post and peoples heads explode. Bring back Ted Rall. -and fwiw worth the headline still reads “REFUSE TO READ ALISON BECHDEL?S ?FUN HOME? (UPDATED)”. The “updated” line is the funniest thing on this page.

#14 Mike Peterson
August/27/2015
@ 11:25 am

How many colleges have chosen Dr. Dre’s music as the class-wide discussion theme for their freshmen year group project? I’d be interested in knowing how it went.

I’ll bet Liberty did, because, as Mark Juhl notes, Christian colleges are wonderfully open-minded and often have campus-wide events that challenge their beliefs.

In fact, they encourage students to think and act outside the box — it’s kind of a four-year rumspringa of drugs, alcohol and alternative sexual experiences! (Of course, the atheist kids who enroll at Christian schools are permitted to opt out if this licentious behavior offends them. It’s all about freedom to choose!)

#15 Dave Stephens
August/27/2015
@ 4:24 pm

This conversation jumped all the sharks…

If someone isn’t interested in a challenging book, well, that’s about as normal a situation as can be – it is only news because it is an opportunity for nattering nabobs to show their asses…

#16 Mark Juhl
August/27/2015
@ 7:22 pm

Thanks for the lesson in being open mind Mike P. Granted I could never aspire to level of someone who has so much comfort using phrases like “mackerel-snappers” and “Christian Taliban ”
I bow to you sir.

#17 Dave Stephens
August/27/2015
@ 9:38 pm

“Christian Taliban” betrays hatred for Christians while conflating ‘extreme Christians’ with ‘extreme Muslims’ as IF they were in any way related…

In the same way that Taliban SOLDIERS are related to Christians with OPINIONS, a Bic Lighter might be similar to a raging forest fire…. Sure, why not?

#18 Mike Peterson
August/28/2015
@ 3:25 am

Catholics are allowed to refer to themselves as “mackerel snappers,” Mark. It”s self-deprecating, affectionate humor.

“Christian Taliban” is, I’ll admit, more in the line of satire, which I would expect someone discussing comics to understand, but I don’t mind explaining: The Taliban take the most extreme, cherry-picked view of the Koran, extracting from it only the portions that support their hostile, judgmental view of the world and of their own religion. It turns a widespread, mainstream religion into something hateful and harmful to society.

Now, really, you should be able to figure out the rest, although Dave can help you with the denial part. He’s the expert on that!

And let me end with a quote from yet another bit of self-deprecating humor I learned as an Irish Catholic …

“… and with that, the pig got up and walked away.”

#19 Terry LaBan
August/28/2015
@ 7:16 am

Mackerel snappers?

#20 Keith Brown
August/28/2015
@ 8:48 am

…also Bass Biters and Crappie Crunchers.
Or so I’m told, anyway.

#21 Mike Peterson
August/29/2015
@ 3:43 am

Reference to the meatless Fridays of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

Which actually were worthwhile, because it was a sort of secular reminder that you were Catholic — for instance, between the JV and varsity basketball games when you’d be down at the cafeteria getting a snack. You’d reach for a burger and someone nearby would nudge you and say, “Hey, stupid — it’s Friday.”

Not sure if it began as a slur which was adopted or was something (Irish) Catholics came up with themselves, but I suspect the former.

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