Guess which book the College of Charleston spent around $39,000 buying up to assign to 4,000 or so incoming 2013 freshmen students for ostensibly required summer reading.
Could the College of Charleston (CofC) have invested in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”—an enduring cautionary tale about the deeply destructive power of unchecked ambition? How about Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” which delves deeply into issues of God, free will, and morality?
Of course not. Instead, administrators at the public university in downtown Charleston, South Carolina chose “Fun Home,” a 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist who writes a comic strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For.”
The book’s plot concerns a woman who is coming out as a lesbian. She has a closeted gay father. He’s an English teacher who owns a funeral home. He’s also on trial for a sexually molesting a young boy. Among much else, there’s an illustrated masturbation scene to boot.
In addition to dropping nearly $40,000 on the glorified comic books, CofC will generously give $13,000 from its public coffers to Bechdel when she speaks on campus in October, according to Campus Reform.
The assignment and the pricey speaking engagement have generated criticism from a conservative Christian organization called Palmetto Family, which works with a couple national groups: Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council (both founded by James Dobson).
An out-of-state parent notified Oran Smith, Palmetto Family’s president and CEO, about the contents of the book, reports The Post and Courier. Smith then sent an email to approximately 10,000 people entitled “A Shocking Summer Reading Assignment!”
“I found it very close to pornography,” Smith explained, “way over the top.” He also said that people who have received his email strongly agree.
“We don’t think this book should be banned in America,” he said. “We don’t think it should be burned. It’s just not appropriate for college freshmen.”
It’s not clear which age cohort Smith thinks should be reading the book.
Freshmen classes at American colleges and universities tend to include students who are between the ages of 17 and 19.
The provost of CofC, George Hynd said the school endeavors to provide a safe, diverse atmosphere and that the assignment will not be changed.
Lynne Ford, associate provost, said the graphic memoir copes with issues of identity and “will help students to learn that they are not unique. Our experience is shared by millions.”
In an email response to The Post and Courier, Bechdel, the author, noted that the book had been assigned at a number of colleges and high schools previously. She also said she disagrees with the characterization of her book as pornographic because she had no intent to cause sexual stimulation.
The Charleston newspaper surveyed other schools around the South Carolina to see what books they were pushing on students this year. At Southern Baptist-affiliated Charleston Southern University, it’s “Why College Matters to God” by Rick Ostrander. At Coastal Carolina University, it’s a self-help book called “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie. At Clemson University, it’s a tale of illegal border crossing called “The Iguana Tree.”
The Daily Caller recommends skipping all of these readings altogether and instead reading something substantially better or just having a good time before freshman year begins.