Duke Freshmen Say They Won’t Read Book That ‘Violates’ Their Christian Beliefs

Part of the idea behind a liberal arts education is that you are exposed to a variety of ideas, philosophies, and information. One way universities do that is with their reading lists for students. But this year, a group of Duke University freshmen are protesting one book on the school’s summer reading list, saying that it violates their Christian beliefs.

Last April, Duke announced that the graphic novel, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, would be on the class of 2019’s summer reading list. The novel details the author’s childhood relationship with her father, her coming out as a lesbian, and her discovery that her father was gay. Ibanca Anand, a student member of the committee that selected the reading list, described the novel this way:

“‘Fun Home’ is a book like no other. The author uses the unique graphic medium to tell a story that sheds a lot of light on important and weighted issues like mental health, interpersonal relationships and human rights, all critical issues that students will become acquainted with in college.”

Anand added:

“It has the potential to start many arguments and conversations, which, in my opinion, is an integral component of a liberal arts education.”

Now the Duke Chronicle reports that some freshmen have elected to skip reading Fun Home. Apparently the issue started on the “Class of 2019” Facebook page in late July. According to the Duke Chronicle, incoming freshman Brian Grasso wrote on the private page, “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.”

Grasso’s post sparked a discussion about the novel. Some of the students were unhappy because, as a graphic novel, the book offers some explicit drawings of events in the story. Another freshman, Jeffery Wubbenhorst, called the novel “pornographic.” In an email, Wubbenhorst wrote:

“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.”

Wubbenhorst’s comment suggesting that he might have read the novel if it had featured only words, and no pictures, is rather strange. How many people read a book without bringing to mind images of characters and events in the story? Is he saying that he would be okay with imagining events in the story in his mind’s eye, but that he doesn’t want to look at someone else’s depiction of them?

Grasso said that Duke was being insensitive to conservatives when they chose Fun Home for the summer reading list. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind,” he said. “It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”

Was it that Duke didn’t know that students like Grasso existed, or was it that the university wanted to make sure that those students were aware that other people, with beliefs and opinions different from theirs, also exist? It seems that some who live inside the conservative Christian “bubble” never want to venture outside of it.

There was a time, not so long ago, that college students expected to have their beliefs and sacred cows held up to scrutiny, and as a result of that scrutiny, they would find that their beliefs would be reinforced, or they consider changing them. That is what used to be known as a “liberal education.” If these students didn’t want to be challenged, and didn’t want to be exposed to books such as Fun Home, maybe they would be better off somewhere like Liberty University, where they’ll only get the right-wing “Christian” view, instead of a school like Duke, where they are going to be asked to think.

Featured image via Duke Today