Note: This piece is partially in response to the article “I’m a Duke freshman. Here’s why I refused to read ‘Fun Home.’” by Brian Grasso.
There are a lot of things I have enjoyed about college. There are a lot of other things I haven’t enjoyed so much. From reading introductions to 17th century encyclopedias to looking at some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s more explicit images, there are lots of things I in the moment would have loved to skip. Yet at the end of the day I can say with certainty that each of those less than fun academic experiences contributed in a significant way to my knowledge. They helped to make me more well-rounded and provided new means of understanding related material.
I will be the first to acknowledge that when I don’t wish to complete an assignment/reading it tends to be due to a lack of interest or the difficulty, not due to religious or moral objections. Yet the recent objections I have seen due to religious reasons (specifically regarding Fun Home) seem almost unsubstantiated. Grasso points to one specific biblical passage that could be interpreted as forbidding pornographic content as to why he wouldn’t read Fun Home.
It is not my place to debate the interpretation or to say if any interpretation should be adhered to. But I do ask this question, where does one draw the line? If Grasso took an introductory art history course would he need to omit any lessons on the Renaissance since Michelangelo’s David would likely be discussed and viewed? What about a literature course that reads Richard Wright’s Native Son, which features sexually explicit scenes. When one begins to limit what content they will learn from due to these objections, their ability to learn in college begins to become severely restricted.
Drawing the line aside, in this instance I can’t help but wonder why the reader couldn’t simply skip a page or two and continue on. Having read Fun Home, I feel confident saying that the reader could still gain a great deal even if skipping a particular page. Would it really have been that hard to ask a peer who had read the assigned material which pages had sexual content on them and to skip them? While I personally believe that one should not abstain from engaging with material due to moral objections, I can understand why somebody may feel differently.
When a student encounters material that they object to for whatever reason, there are many ways to handle the situation. However, flat-out refusing to engage with the material is arguably the worse option. Don’t put yourself in a situation where your professor or even your school as a whole sees enough value in something to ask you to learn from and you say that it is not something you will consider.
If you as a student ever encounter material that you object to, don’t just take the easiest route and flat-out refuse. Accordingly, I suggest some alternatives to simply avoiding the material altogether. Do what you can to still learn what is trying to be taught by assigning said material. Talk to the instructor, see how you can still participate, see if there are other ways to engage with the material that wouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable.
Obviously it is impossible to become knowledgeable on every subject while in college. But once you have chosen to make the commitment to attend a particular institution and take various courses you have also committed to engage with the assigned material. We have committed for the time being making learning one of our major pursuits in life.