Some Duke freshman object to reading book about lesbian and her gay father

'Fun Home' causes controversy at Duke (WNCN Photo)

DURHAM, N.C.(WNCN) – Some Duke University freshmen are refusing to read “Fun Home,” the summer reading for incoming students, saying the book is at odds with their personal beliefs.

The 2007 book, by Alison Bechdel, is about a lesbian who grows up with a gay father. It was the source of a current play on Broadway.

The Duke Chronicle said freshman Brian Grasso took to the Duke Class of 2019 Facebook page to say, “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.”

The New York Times, in its original review of the book, wrote that the book is by “a lesbian, and sexuality looms large in her memoir. Bechdel’s father, Bruce, was gay (as she puts it: ‘a manic-depressive, closeted fag’), and ‘Fun Home’ is at its heart a story about a daughter trying to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality.”

Some Duke students objected to the decision so make that the book of choice for summer reading.

The Duke Chronicle said freshman Brian Grasso took to the Duke Class of 2019 Facebook page to say, “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.”

The Duke Chronicle said many students took to Facebook and some defended the book and its images as having literary value.

But others agreed with Grasso. The Chronicle said freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst objected to the graphic nature of the book.

The Duke Class of 2019 Facebook page is a closed group with 900 members.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs at government relations at Duke, said in a lengthy response:

“Like many universities and community, Duke has had a summer reading for many years to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of the class. …

“The reading is selected by a committee of students, and staff, who then solicit feedback from other members of the Duke community.  ‘Fun Home’ was ultimately chosen because it is a unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront.  It is also one of the most celebrated graphic novels of its generation, and the theatrical adaption won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and four others, in 2015.  As we have every year, we were fortunate to have the author join us on campus for a lively discussion of the book during orientation week.

“The summer reading is entirely voluntary — it is not a requirement, nor is there a grade or record of any student’s participation.  With a class of 1,750 new students from around the world, it would be impossible to find a single book that that did not challenge someone’s way of thinking.  We understand and respect that, but also hope that students will begin their time at Duke with open minds and a willingness to explore new ideas, whether they agree with them or not.”

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