Controversial summer reading assignment raises concerns at Duke

Posted June 15, 2015

— Incoming freshmen at Duke will receive a book in the mail that has stirred controversy on other campuses.

“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel, a summer reading assignment for first-year students, recently won a Tony for best musical for its Broadway adaptation and was a finalist for a Pulitzer last year. However, a conservative think tank argues the graphic novel has content too graphic for college freshmen

Incoming freshmen Stephanie Wiehe said she is excited to attend Duke this fall, but her mother—a Duke alumna—said she was surprised by the university's summer reading selection.

“I can see where some parents are not going to like that very much,” Juliet Saad said. “I think the students who go to Duke need to think about these big subjects in our society, and it should be great for conversation for all the students.”

The book is a memoir that explores the author's relationship with her gay father, who committed suicide, and her own sexuality.

South Carolina lawmakers threatened to cut funding at the College of Charleston two years ago when the book was put on a summer reading list.

Duke, a private university, issued the following statement about the book selection: "We do understand that the novel may make some readers uncomfortable. It may create arguments and conversations, which are important to a liberal arts education.”

A committee made up of students, faculty and staff made the summer reading selection. The book and will serve as the focus of conversation during freshmen orientation week.

“I was really surprised when I found that this was the book that was chosen,” Duke student Melody Iro said. It’s progressive; I’m really glad that it was.”


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Kimberly Harvey Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Most private colleges have summer reading experiences. It is something that the entire incoming class does as a whole. I, personally, enjoyed the book that my first year class had to do when I entered Peace in 2002. We all had to take a course designed around the book. We also had a series of lectures based around it. It united our class, and it brought us into the academic fold. I don't see anything wrong with that.

    And as far as the appropriateness of the material. They are adults. In their lifetime, they have been exposed to much more controversial material than this. These are the kids who grew up in the Miley Cyrus twerking era. These are the kids of the transgender generation. Shielding them from literature will only serve to harm them.

    Don't even get me started on the negative effects of censorship. I could be here all day.

  • Robert Richardson Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    Aren't the incoming freshmen considered adults and no longer living at home? Or are the complaints from the helicopter parents who refuse to let their precious little ones grow up and form their own opinions?

  • Lisa Lindsay Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    What's sad is that the "graphic" part these folks are complaining about isn't the suicide, it's the homosexuality. :-) NC may very well be the most homophobic state in the Union.

  • Steve Faulkner Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    Homework before even attending school? I don't think I would be doing that...

  • Tracy Corwin Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Oops - - first sentence should read, If students attending Duke . . . mea culpa

  • Charles Boyer Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    Content "too graphic" for students who will mostly be 18 years of age when they get to campus? Talk about helicopter parenting...of other peoples kids.

  • Tracy Corwin Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    If student attending Duke do not know sentence structure by the time they apply to Duke I seriously doubt they are ready to attend any college or university, let alone an elite one like Duke. As for math and history, those subjects are too broad. There are a multitude of majors offered at Duke within just those two subject areas alone. Summer reading is usually always something that lends itself to broad discussion. Personally, I thought the book choice was great as is the book itself.

  • George Herbert Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    It's only controversial when some busybodies start making it so. Otherwise, it's a frank, award-winning coming-of-age story.

  • Edward Anderson Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    Somebody please proof-read stories before you post them. "The book and will serve as the focus of conversation during freshmen orientation week."
    The book and....what?

  • Roy Hinkley Jun 16, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Duke's mission goes far beyond basic coursework.

    "Duke University seeks to engage the mind, elevate the spirit, and stimulate the best effort of all who are associated with the University"