Duke University responds to 'Fun Home' controversy

Despite the widely publicized objections by some incoming freshmen, Duke University appears to be standing by the selection of Alison Bechdel's acclaimed graphic memoir Fun Home for its summer reading program.

"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," Michael Schoenfeld, the university's vice president for public affairs, said in a statement issued Monday. "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."

The debate about the 2006 graphic novel, which chronicles Bechdel's childhood with a closeted gay father, his apparent suicide and her own coming out as a lesbian, began on the Facebook page for Duke's class of 2019, where incoming freshman Brian Grasso wrote that reading Fun Home would require him to "compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs." While the ensuing discussion, first reported by Duke's student newspaper, included support for the book, others admitted they were bothered by its depiction of sexual acts.

That discussion has since received national attention in which some have labeled Fun Home as pornography, reminiscent of the controversy that arose last year in South Carolina, where lawmakers sought to cut the budget of the College of Charleston as punishment for including the graphic novel on its summer reading list.

However, Grasso, who's comments sparked the debate, concedes that Fun Home isn't pornography. “Obviously, the purpose of Fun Home is literary and not pornographic in nature,” he told The Daily Beast. “However, I still hold that personally, it would be dishonoring to God for me to read it and to view it.”

As with previous titles chosen by the Duke Common Experience Program, Fun Home isn't required reading; there's no grade given or documentation of a student's participation. The program is designed to “give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class" (the author is also invited to speak on campus). Previous selections include Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Everything Matters, by Ron Currie Jr.; and Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol.

"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," Schoenfeld explained in his statement. "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."

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