Allison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” is no stranger to controversy. Since its initial publication in 2006, the graphic memoir has been repeatedly studied, scrutinized and summarily rejected for its unflinching portrayal of harsh subjects. For the same reasons, though, “Fun Home” has been lauded by numerous publications — including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and Time — as the best nonfiction book of 2006. Relevant to such modern themes as sexual orientation, gender identity, emotional development and complex family dynamics, one might think Bechdel’s story would be a beneficial selection as common reading for Duke University’s incoming freshmen.
This was simply not meant to be, as numerous entering freshmen at Duke refused to read “Fun Home” due to its “graphic visual depictions of sexuality.” Although this is not the first instance of protest against “Fun Home” at the university level, never before had this type of incident occurred at an institution such as Duke.
“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” wrote freshman Brian Grasso in a Facebook post to Duke’s official Class of 2019 page.
The complaints from students like Grasso are not unfounded — there are graphic, but brief, instances of sexual content in Bechdel’s story. As such, it would be fair to argue that such reading could be considered a violation of moral and religious beliefs, as the protesting students claim. But it’s not clear if the students’ decision to completely ignore the greater work because of these few choice scenes is completely fair.
These students chose not to read “Fun Home” only after researching the book’s potentially offensive material, and yet it does not appear that they ever had the opportunity to consider its context and its literary value. In fact, many Duke students who defended “Fun Home” and its portrayal of sexuality commented on the necessity for students coming into college to expand their points of view. After all, there is no better time to begin cultivating genuine curiosity in diverse worldviews, even worldviews with which we may not agree, than when we take our first steps toward independence.
Are the students who chose not to read “Fun Home” wrong for staying true to their beliefs? Of course not. However, I feel that this inaction could be ultimately short-sighted as these students develop into global citizens. Students like Grasso who are just now entering college will someday be responsible for so much more than themselves. Considering how the issues presented in “Fun Home” are only going to become more prevalent as time progresses, it’s unfortunate to consider that these students may still be unable to consider perspectives that do not align with their own. The dissenting students may have the right to be offended, but they should be aware that broader society does not operate by their standards.
Even here at Elon University, we as students are always being presented with new ideas that continually change our understanding of this world, and our place in it. Sometimes, we can even be pushed to our breaking points. What has happened at Duke should remind us that personal growth is only possible when we are willing to broaden our perspectives and step outside our comfort zones. It’s a choice, to be sure, but it’s a choice worth considering.