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.
Many first-year students responded to the post, expressing their thoughts on Grasso’s discomfort with the novel. Some defended the book’s images as having literary value and said that the book could broaden students’ viewpoints.
“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,” wrote freshman Marivi Howell-Arza.
However, several freshmen agreed with Grasso that the novel’s images conflicted with their beliefs. Freshman Bianca D’Souza said that while the novel discussed important topics, she did not find the sexual interactions appropriate and could not bring herself to view the images depicting nudity.
Freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst based his decision not to read the book on its graphic novel format.
“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,” he wrote in an email.
Grasso said that many students privately messaged him thanking him for the post and agreeing with his viewpoint. He explained that he knew the post would be controversial but wanted to make sure students with similar Christian beliefs did not feel alone, adding that he also heard from several students with non-Christian backgrounds who chose not to read the book for moral reasons.
“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.”
The summer reading book selection committee expected that the novel would be contentious among its readers, said senior Sherry Zhang, a member of the committee and co-chair of the First-Year Advisory Counselor Board. The debate generated by Grasso’s post was “very respectful and considerate,” Zhang said.
Although the book selection has prompted valuable discussions for some first-years, others said it changed their perception of Duke.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
“I thought to myself, ‘What kind of school am I going to?’” said freshman Elizabeth Snyder-Mounts.
Grasso noted that he felt the book choice was insensitive to people with more conservative beliefs.
“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.”
Zhang said that she supports the book choice, which she believes shows that Duke is a place that does not shy away from issues of sexuality. However, she added that the choice of whether or not to read the book ultimately belongs to each individual student.
“I would encourage them to talk about why they chose to read it or not,” she said.