Metro Weekly

Duke incoming freshmen refuse to read lesbian graphic novel

Book boycotters claim Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" is "pornographic" and compromises their "Christian moral beliefs"

A study room inside Duke University's Bostock Library (Photo credit: Bluedog423 via Wikimedia Commons).
A study room inside Duke University’s Bostock Library (Photo credit: Bluedog423 via Wikimedia Commons).

Apparently, “trigger warnings” aren’t just for liberals anymore. Now, some conservative-leaning students from Duke University’s incoming freshmen class have balked at reading the university’s recommended summer reading book.

As first reported by the Duke Chronicle, the university’s student newspaper, several incoming freshmen took to social media to protest Duke’s selection of Fun Home, a graphic novel by out lesbian Alison Bechdel, which explores her relationship with her father, who lived life as a closeted homosexual, and her own coming out process. Freshman Brian Grasso was the first to speak out against the book when he took to the Class of 2019 Facebook page on July 26 and said he would not read it “because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality” contained in the novel. 

“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Grasso wrote in his Facebook post. He later told the Chronicle that he felt the choice of Fun Home was insensitive to people with conservative beliefs. 

Grasso’s post opened the floodgates, with several other students arguing that Bechdel’s novel ran contrary to their personal religious beliefs. Like Grasso, the bulk of students appeared to be most offended by the graphic drawings within the novel, not necessarily the novel itself. 

“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,” the Chronicle quotes freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst as writing in an email.

Other freshmen defended the book on social media, saying it could help introduce incoming students to new concepts or ideas they hadn’t considered before. Still others pointed out that Bechdel’s drawings are not pornographic in nature, but merely depictions of sexuality in keeping with the novel’s subject matter. 

Simon Partner, a professor of history and director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke, previously acknowledged earlier in the spring that the selection of the book would likely be controversial, because of its treatment of human sexuality. However, Partner had expressed hope that the book would “stimulate interesting and useful discussion about what it means, as a young adult, to take a position on a controversial topic.”

This is not the first time that Fun Home has been at the center of a college controversy. Last year, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to cut funding for the College of Charleston’s summer reading program after the school had encouraged — but not required — students to read Fun Home. Palmetto State lawmakers took similar action against the University of South Carolina Upstate for reading a separate book containing LGBT stories from the South. The State Senate later restored that money in its budget, but required the colleges to use the money to teach students about the U.S. Constitution.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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