Education

Controversial summer reading assignment raises concerns at Duke

Posted June 15, 2015 6:41 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2015 7:03 p.m. EDT

— 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.”