Incoming Duke Freshmen Refuse To Read Fun Home On Religious Grounds

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On April 1, Duke University announced that the "Common Experience summer reading book" for incoming freshmen would be Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, the cartoonist's coming-of-age graphic novel. The text was assigned to give freshman a "shared intellectual experience," as well as something to discuss during their orientation week. This should have been good news to every freshman, from the eager overachievers who could come to school ready to discuss not just the book, but the Broadway musical as well, in addition to the less literary set, likely excited to be assigned a book that can easily be finished in an afternoon.

But some students aren't at all pleased with the reading selection, going so far as to refuse to read it because it interferes with their religious beliefs. As Duke's paper The Chronicle reports, one student, Brian Grasso, voiced his objections to the book on the class of 2019's Facebook page, writing, "I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it." Like-minded incoming freshmen were also quoted in the article, like Elizabeth Snyder-Mounts, who said, "I thought to myself, What kind of school am I going to?"

That's actually a really important question students should be asking themselves before accepting a college's offer of admission. If students truly feel uncomfortable reading a text that deals with sex (with brief, literally cartoon nudity), and homosexuality, then they can choose to attend conservative Christian schools. But if they don't choose to attend that kind of university, they need to be open-minded, and ready to read and consider topics that make them uncomfortable, and more importantly, teach them to think critically. If a student thinks that explorations of sexuality have no place in literature, they should read the book and write a paper defending that position.

These students should be tasked with comparing great works that are squeaky clean (if they can find any) with texts that might make them blush, and arguing their case. In undergraduate classes, students will encounter things that most likely horrify them, and go against their beliefs. They might read a primary source in a history class that supports slavery. They might watch footage of a genocide in a poly-sci class or read the memoir of someone who grew up abused in a sociology class. In English classes, they will encounter texts like like Never Let Me Go, which deals with human cloning, and Sula, which touches on prostitution and adultery, both novels on the syllabus for an actual Duke class. These texts might make undergrads question their religion or strengthen their beliefs, inspire them to action or to embrace new ideas.

But if students navigate their undergrad experience dodging topics they've deemed unacceptable at a young age, they'll come out with a few phrases in a foreign language and a general dislike of communal bathrooms, and not much more.

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