Today, colleges in the United States are struggling to create a complete, challenging and diverse curriculum while also trying to avoid offending students or creating a learning environment that some students might deem unsafe. College has always been a time for young people to confront conflicting concepts and to grow, often by new experiences.
This year Brian Grasso, a freshman at Duke University, wrote an article for his school paper, The Duke Chronicle, explaining why he refused to read the book, “Fun Home,” which he was assigned to read for a class.
“Fun Home” by Allison Bechdel is a graphic novel focusing on sexual orientation, family dysfunction and emotional abuse, among other things. Grasso, identifying as a faithful Christian, refused to read the book, claiming it was “pornographic” in the eyes of his religion and therefore he could not permit himself to read it.
While freedom of religion is critical to ensure that people do not get persecuted for their beliefs, empathizing with those from all walks of life is essential for a society of balance without hate and bigotry. To empathize with people with other walks of life, the least you have to do is read about them. While it may be true Grasso refused to read “Fun Home” because it went against his religious beliefs, it doesn’t change the fact that not reading it helped assure that Grasso will remain more narrow in his views.
Reading “Fun Home” does not create some direct association between Grasso and the material inside the book. Reading it does not make Grasso guilty of the sins contained within that he claims to fear being a part of. Grasso’s reasoning for not wanting to read “Fun Home” is comparable to never watching the news for fear of seeing war because you personally believe in peace.
Considering the need for a book like “Fun Home”, a member of the Duke Common Experience Selection committee, Ibanca Anand said, “It has the potential to start many arguments and conversations, which, in my opinion, is an integral part of a liberal arts education.” How can you disagree with that?
Half of the reason we are in college is to expand our minds and to be challenged by new material. Often we may not agree with the material, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from it. Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer – I sure hate everything that Fox News has to say, but I still like to tune in every once and a while. That way, when I’m arguing politics with someone that watches Fox News, I can bring up specific examples of their idiocy.
We need to read. If we want to be knowledgeable about the world and ready to take on the future in any sort of adequate manner, we need to read anything we can possibly get our hands on. To be truly educated and to become wise, we need to have a multi-faceted approach to learning. We will never develop and we will never change if we don’t have any conflict.
Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 this year is the annual Banned Books Week. The event celebrates the freedom for people to read what they please, and I encourage any and all UMass students to participate. Challenge your morals or reinforce them. Read something that scares you.
Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]