The Duke freshman’s Fun Home protest is actually quite reasonable

After earning media attention through a Facebook post on the subject, Duke freshman Brian Grasso elaborates in the Washington Post on why he opted not to read this summer’s common reading selection. Along with other Christian classmates, Grasso refrained from reading Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s controversial graphic novel featuring explicit LGBT themes. Fun Home is not alone in spreading the progressive program to innocent 18-year-olds nationwide; that has become the norm. But Grasso says his choice was not like the many stories we hear about college students protesting ideas they find offensive. He writes that he is open to reading Freud, Marx, Darwin, and even books with LGBT themes, all of which he disagrees with or finds immoral. His dispute, rather, is with the graphic aspect of the selection; Grasso quotes what he sees as a biblical prohibition of pornographic images.

This is a nuance that commentators have either ignored or acknowledged and misunderstood (see here, here, and here). It is possible to be open to foreign ideas yet still draw a line at violating what one sees as the word of God.

Fun Home was an optional assignment; while incoming freshmen were expected to read it and discuss it, he and his fellow protestors did not break any rules or sacrifice their grades by skipping the book. Grasso appears to understand, however, that he could come across similarly “immoral” content in his curriculum classes. He writes that he would protest and encourage like-minded classmates to do so as well. Hopefully, he understands that he will rightfully take a hit to his grade in such a scenario. But again, this is different than calling for censorship of ideas that one finds offensive.

Grasso stumbles, however, when he calls for a kind of “trigger warning.” That’s the term that well-meaning college students have foisted upon the world in an attempt to shield themselves from emotional harm and unkempt thoughts. Grasso means to shield himself from a different kind of harm though: harm to his conscience. He writes that if he is assigned , “And I believe professors should warn me about such material, not because I might consider them offensive or discomforting, but because I consider it immoral.”

It may be nice for professors to warn students when they are to come across content that could violate someone’s conscience, but that should hardly be expected of them. After all, some leftists find the laws of economics to be immoral. Surely, economics professors should not warn undergraduates that they will be morally repulsed by a lecture on the effects of the minimum wage. Conservatives like Grasso should be careful about adopting this tool of the campus left.

Nevertheless, Grasso closes by demonstrating he has not fallen for another bad leftist idea (though he has four years to succumb to it): the diversity scam. He writes that diversity should be about the exchange of new ideas:

Over the past couple of days, I have received many encouraging messages from a new friend, who considers herself bisexual and a Buddhist. She and I became friends after she saw my Facebook post. Instead of criticizing me, she asked me to explain my beliefs. I, in turn, asked her to explain the Buddhist perspective on sexuality. This is how diversity is supposed to work. We each shared our perspective, and walked away from the conversation with a deeper understanding and compassion for each other. That is what college is really about.

We can only hope there is a still grain of truth to that at Duke.

Harry Painter

Harry Painter writes for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.