As everyone knows, college is a time when you should be coddled, cushioned, and kept as far away as possible from any thoughts and ideas that may challenge the way you think or feel. It’s all about spending thousands and thousands of dollars for the chance to be reassured that everything your parents told you was right, that you should get a good job so you can donate more money to the school, and that your fraternity brothers keep hitting you with that paddle because they’re your friends. That’s why we are shocked—shocked—that Duke University would stoop so low as to politely request that the incoming freshman class read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, an award-winning graphic novel that has (as CNN puts it) “sexual themes and use of nudity.” That’s right, America: Use. Of. Nudity.
Fun Home is an autobiographical story about Bechdel’s childhood, with memories about growing up as a lesbian interlaced with memories about her occasionally abusive father and his (closeted) homosexuality. It’s has won numerous awards, the most prestigious of which is its inclusion in The A.V. Club’s list of the best comics of the ‘00s. Prestige aside, though, it does have sexual themes and use of nudity, so—according to The Duke Chronicle—a handful of the school’s incoming freshman have declared that they refuse to read it on the grounds that it is new and scary.
Or, as one such freshman put it on his Facebook: “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.” That same student said that Duke’s decision to put Fun Home on a recommended reading list was “insensitive to people with more conservative beliefs,” adding that it was “like Duke didn’t know we existed.” The Duke Chronicle quotes another student as acknowledging that it “discussed important topics,” but she “could not bring herself to view the images depicting nudity.” One guy explained that the sexual content is fine and that he “might have consented” to read it in print, but the fact that it has drawings of boobs or whatever “violates [his] conscience.” Another student even suggested that Fun Home shook her entire perception of Duke, saying that she asked herself what kind of school would do something as horrible as suggest that incoming students read an award-winning book about a woman’s struggles with sexual identity.
As for Duke itself, it seems pretty cool with all of this, reiterating to CNN that the whole summer reading list is just a recommendation, so nobody is being forced to do something they’re not happy about. The university also defended Fun Home‘s inclusion on the list, explaining that it’s a “unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront.” Like hell they will, Duke.
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