The 2006 graphic novel, an autobiographical work about Bechdel coming to terms with her homosexuality as her funeral-director father remains closeted, was selected as a summer reading book for the Duke Class of 2019. But some students declined to read it because of its sexual themes and use of nudity.
"I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it," incoming freshman Brian Grasso wrote on Facebook, according to the Duke Chronicle
"The nature of 'Fun Home' means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature," freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst added in an email to the publication.
A Duke spokesman observed that the reading was voluntary, though he hoped 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."
"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," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in a statement to CNN.
" '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," he added, noting that Bechdel came to campus for a discussion during orientation week.
Other finalists for the Duke Common Experience Summer Reading list included "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," Nicholas Carr's polemic about Internet culture; "All the Light We Cannot See," the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr; and "The Righteous Mind," a discussion of ideology and psychology by Jonathan Haidt.
It's not the first time controversy has surrounded "Fun Home" in an academic setting.
A conservative group protested
the book's presence on a 2013 list at South Carolina's College of Charleston, and, in 2008, some students at the University of Utah
wanted it removed from an English class.
"Fun Home" was turned into a Broadway musical that won a Tony for best musical this year. The author, a MacArthur "Genius" Award winner, is also known for the comic "Dykes to Watch Out For" and the "Bechdel test," about the intelligence of women's portrayals in movies.
Bechdel has not returned a request for comment.