Duke University has managed to court controversy before the school year even begins. Over the summer, the school assigned all incoming freshmen to read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. (Note: “Graphic novel” is the preferred descriptor for upscale comic books.) Naturally, Fun Home is a lesbian coming-of-age story. We say “naturally,” because when The Scrapbook was an undergraduate a couple of decades ago, we recall being similarly required to read lesbian coming-of-age tales by the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Dorothy Allison. But these were at least full-fledged novels, not comic books. College kids these days apparently can’t even be expected to put in the work necessary to be properly indoctrinated!
In any event, the Washington Post tracked down an incoming Christian student who objected to the book and asked him to explain himself. And wouldn’t you know it, he seems pretty reasonable—his objection is that the book’s sex is needlessly graphic, both in the literal and figurative sense:
I’m not opposed to reading memoirs written by LGBTQ individuals or stories containing suicide. I’m not even opposed to reading Freud, Marx or Darwin. I know that I’ll have to grapple with ideas I don’t agree with, even ideas that I find immoral. . . . I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict[s] with the inherent sacredness of sex.
Indeed, The Scrapbook can testify to the difference between written and visual representations of sex because we were once forced to endure a lecture as an undergraduate consisting of a slideshow of images taken from Hustler magazine. (The course was “The Philosophy of Love and Sex,” and it fulfilled the “Identity, Pluralism, and Tolerance” credit required for graduation.)
Of course, the folks at Salon responded about as one would expect them to: “Clinging to Christian moral beliefs can end an education before it even begins.” But how is it that when “trigger warnings” are all the rage on college campuses, this objection from a Christian student is to be disdained? All across the country, students have demanded to be excused from reading or otherwise being subjected to material that they find psychologically or politically or sexually traumatizing. If it’s okay to object to reading, say, Toni Morrison’s Beloved—because the depictions of slavery and sexual assault are too intense to handle while paying $50,000 a year for the privilege of fighting white privilege in the heart of the phallocratic campus—surely some “safe space” can also be carved out for a Christian freshman who wants to adhere to his own sense of what is just and right.
Christian students are at least upfront and consistent in their principles. The academy is loath to admit that secular progressivism is a religion unto itself, eager to attack heretics and brutally enforce doctrine, provided one can keep track of an orthodoxy that seems to change constantly. One year it’s all the rage to stick it to the morally hidebound establishment by showing kids porno mags in class and claiming it’s educational. The next year, the very same material is said to prop up a patriarchal rape culture.
The truth is Bechdel’s book is mediocre at best, just as Jeanette Winterson’s and Dorothy Allison’s lesbian romans à clef are decidedly overpraised. There’s little value in forcing students to read middling, agenda-driven drivel when there’s far more worthy reading assignments. In this day and age, Christian college students are more likely to be open-minded about differences of opinion than the Robespierres-in-training who claim to be advancing the cause of “social justice.”