Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Pathways to understanding...."

"What would happen if we spoke the truth."- Alison Bechdel, author, cartoonist

              Contrary to media reports overheard or nonchalantly glanced at trending on social media this week, Duke University students are not being forced to do anything. As part of the  incoming freshman summer reading program a graphic novel by New York Times best-selling author, Alison Bechdel (photo shown above) was chosen among other literature because it is likely to spark open conversations about life, death and sexuality. Topics that all sincere adult students pursuing higher education should be comfortable contemplating. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was first published in 2006 and has since been made into a highly successful Broadway musical. Summer reading is entirely voluntary but Fun Home offers a rich opportunity for discussion, especially about discrimination and human rights. What most people don't understand about the Duke dilemma is how students who haven't read the novel automatically dismiss it as violating their moral beliefs.

 To clarify, in a statement by Michael Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Duke University  

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 (you can see the most recent selections at https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/new-students/common-experience).  
The reading is selected by a committee of students, and staff, who then solicit feedback from other members of the Duke community.  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.  It is also one of the most celebrated graphic novels of its generation, and the theatrical adaption won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and four others, in 2015.  As we have every year, we were fortunate to have the author join us on campus for a lively discussion of the book during orientation week.
The summer reading is entirely voluntary — it is not a requirement, nor is there a grade or record of any student’s participation.  With a class of 1,750 new students from around the world, it would be impossible to find a single book that that did not challenge someone’s way of thinking.  We understand and respect that, but also hope 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. 

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