Last week’s news carried into this week, furthering the discussion about Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, “Fun Home” as a result of its selection for Duke University’s voluntary common experience program. On August 30, a Cornell Sun article about the book says the book has value outside of its alleged pornographic images, and that those images are just “On two pages. Out of 232.” Whatever the Duke student says, about carefully researching the book, the Cornell student just isn’t buying it.
The Duke freshman in question, Brian Grasso, wrote an article for The Washington Post about his public declaration on the Class of 2019 Facebook page stating his reasons for not reading the novel. He stated that reading the novel, rather than making him uncomfortable with its literary themes of homosexuality and suicide, was asking him to commit an immoral act by affixing his male gaze to graphic depictions of sex acts. A handful of other students supported Grasso, according to the Duke Chronicle. Again, there are only two pages out of 232 which deal with masturbation and women engaged in oral sex with women.
Duke University in North Carolina was most certainly aware that its more conservative incoming freshmen might have a problem with the book and stated as much in April of this year when the decision was announced. Selection committee member Simon Partner, director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke, and history professor said then, “Because of its treatment of sexual identity, the book is likely to be controversial among students, parents and alumni. I think this, in turn, will stimulate interesting and useful discussion about what it means, as a young adult, to take a position on a controversial topic.”
The College of Charleston in neighboring South Carolina experienced a similar backlash in 2013, but with more serious consequences. The freshman book experience program budget was slashed. However, even in that, the book met goals of “promoting stimulating debate and lively discussion outside of the classroom” even without being read.
On August 31, atombash.com spoke with a representative from Duke University’s media office, Keith Lawrence. He said about the College of Charleston controversy, “I remember that.” But stated that the college was going to “stick to the script” of the same prepared statement released to all other media outlets without getting into the details of what was discussed when the book was selected. He mention that the office had been getting many calls about it.
The Christian Post titled their article, referring the book an “LGBT Porn Novel.” Again, it’s just two pages out of 232 which contain any sexual imagery. Among other books considered for the common experience program was Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” And in this situation, good people are divided by a book.