There is a story that was recently doing the rounds about college students rebelling and refusing to read course material because it conflicted with their religious beliefs. It all started within Duke University’s student rag and that was then picked up by: CNN, USA Today, Salon, The New Civil Rights Movement, the Washington Post, the Onion AV club, Inquisitr, Slate, the Daily Beast, and of course was shared on social media.
Some freshmen students at Duke University are protesting the assignment of Fun Home, claiming reading it would violate their Christian beliefs.
Fun Home is an award-winning, New York Times best-selling graphic novel and memoir that was adapted for the theatre and recently won five Tonys, including the coveted Tony Award for Best Musical. The book and the Broadway show both deal with the very personal, challenging, and emotional issues of its author, Alison Bechdel, including growing up, discovering she is a lesbian, and learning her father, who commits suicide, was gay.
The book was assigned to incoming Duke University freshmen as part of their summer reading list, but as Claire Ballentine at The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, reports, several Christian students strongly objected to the book and refused to read it, citing their deeply-held religious beliefs.
“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Brian Grasso wrote on the Duke University Class of 2019 Facebook page, a closed group. He cited its “graphic visual depictions of sexuality,” as part of his reason. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind,” he added. “It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”
The responses this story generated are exactly what you might expect, many commenters on social media suggested that if they did not do the course work then they deserved to fail the course, others simply ridiculed the students.
… and they would be wholly appropriate comments if the story as reported was factual.
Ah but Hold on a Moment
It turns out that the story is not exactly as reported. One specific student (yes, just one, the named Brian Grasso) commented negatively on the book within a closed FB group that is specific to one year at Duke University (the class of 2019) and a few others “liked” his comment. This then gets reported in the college gossip rag, and that was then picked up and spun into something it was not by national media. Note that it is a closed group, so we have no way of verifying the precise wording, and nor does anybody else, hence everything is build upon that one collage rag story and has also been exaggerated a bit to make it newsworthy – we need to remember that it was not mandatory coursework, and was instead simply suggested summer reading and wholly optional, so having a debate about reading it or not, and also opting to not read it was just fine as far as the committee who suggested the book were concerned.
As is pointed out within the above linked article, the following headlines are far more factual representations of this non-news …
- “One Freshman Says On Facebook That He Won’t Read A Particular Book”
- “99.9% of Incoming Duke Have Not Declared Any Opinion About Whether They Will Read This Book.”
- “Most Expect that the Majority of the Incoming Freshmen Won’t Read the Book, But For No Particular Reason, Just That They Didn’t feel Like It, And It Wasn’t Required Reading Anyway.”
… and this is rather a stark contrast to the headlines manufactured by national media …
- Duke students refuse to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, will probably fail the test, The AV Club
- Duke students reject award-winning book over gay themes edition, CNN
- Duke University freshmen refuse to read ‘Fun Home’ for moral reasons, USA Today
- College Students Refuse To Read Award-Winning Novel Because It Violates Their Christian Beliefs, the New Civil Rights Movement
… so if indeed there is going to be criticism, then let it be criticism of things that are factual and not a completely and utterly fictitious student rebellion.