South Carolina’s Republican state representative Gary Smith has proposed punitive reductions to two colleges for exercising their academic freedom and assigning influential literary works with LGBTQ themes.
The College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate had the audacity to assign Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and the personal essay collection, Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, as part of their incoming freshmen orientation.
Smith proposed the reductions after he learned that students didn’t have a choice in the reading selections. According to him, the colleges’s decision to include these works promoted a “lifestyle with no academic debate.” The proposal has gotten backlash even from Smith’s Republican colleagues, one going insofar as calling “stupid.”
Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder points out that this form of academic censorship is not a recent development. In 2003, David Halperin’s How to Be Gay was the subject of a similar “embarrassing intellectual prudery” at the University of Michigan. Furthermore, Lowder bring up a more crucial slipper slope in academia, a system where students are treated as customers who will only engage with a product they are comfortable with.
“Forget about challenging unexamined prejudices, and don’t worry about promoting critical thinking skills, a wider and richer understanding of the world, and, indeed, actual academic debate: Students (or perhaps parents) should just be able to strike whatever they don’t like from the syllabus,” he wrote.
I was forced to read Fun Home at Northwestern, in a literary memoir class. Not only did it kickstart a personal yearning for queer works that I still treasure to this day, but the groundbreaking graphic memoir about a lesbian coming to terms with her and her closeted father’s sexuality engaged my entire class as to the power of non-traditional storytelling. Who knew there could be such depth inside what we first thought of as a comic book?
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was the most honest, daring and powerful books we read that semester. And I will forever thank my professor for the introduction. I only hope that students in South Carolina can have a similarly life-changing academic privilege.