University students burn Latina author's book for 'dissing white people' during lecture

A group of students at Georgia Southern University burn copies of "Make Your Home Among Strangers" after they believed the author, Jennine Capó Crucet, unfairly "dissed" white people. (Photo: Twitter)

On Wednesday night, New York Times contributor and associate professor at the University of Nebraska, Jennine Capó Crucet, spoke about her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers to first-year students at Georgia Southern University (GSU). The book, required reading for some of GSU's First-Year Experience classes, focuses on the story of a Cuban-American girl from Miami who is accepted into a prestigious university in New York, and the struggles she faces to fit in with the predominantly white environment.

At the invitation from GSU, Crucet gave a talk addressing diversity, especially in a college atmosphere. It is one, according to a statement from Crucet, she has delivered at a number of other schools. However, the student's reaction to her lecture was "nothing close to... any of my previous campus visits."

When the floor was opened for a Q&A, some students questioned her authority to address white privilege at the predominantly white public university.

“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” one student said, according to the university's newspaper, the George-Anne. “What makes you believe that it’s okay to come to a college campus, like this, when we are supposed to be promoting diversity on this campus, which is what we’re taught. I don’t understand what the purpose of this was.”

“I came here because I was invited and I talked about white privilege because it’s a real thing that you are actually benefiting from right now in even asking this question,” Crucet said in response, according to the paper. “What’s so heartbreaking for me and what is so difficult in this moment right now is to literally have read a talk about this exact moment happening and it’s happening again. That is why a different experience, the white experience, is centered in this talk.”

According to Crucet, students immediately began shouting back and forth at one another. While some students raised more questions about race, other students apologized to the author for their peers. Tensions remained high on campus.

Some students believed Crucet made unfair comments regarding white people and claimed the author "wouldn't stop talking about white privilege" when she was supposed to be "promoting diversity."

"I feel that she addressed white students and white people in general unfairly," Andre St. Pierre, a freshman at GSU, who attended the lecture, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "She stated multiple things about white people as a whole that placed all white people in that stereotype of rich and snobby, which is very untrue. Instead of promoting diversity and equality, it’s more like she hated on white people as a whole."

In since-deleted tweets, captured in screenshots and published in the George-Anne, students who attended the lecture tweeted Crucet photos of her book with torn-out pages and accused her of being “racist” towards white people. The paper also shared one student’s tweet, which showed a video of other students burning the book.

"Are you usually that racist or were you putting on a front to promote your pointless and [sh****] book at my college? [Just] a question," one student tweeted (the account has since been deleted). "[Work] on your ignorance and racism towards white people."

In response to a video of a book burning, one student tweeted at Crucet, "Maybe that wouldn't happen if you spoke about your book instead of dissing white people the entire time."

Later that night, captured footage shared on Twitter shows students gathered to burn Crucet's book on campus, which was confirmed by a spokeswoman for GSU. According to a statement shared by the university's Writing and Linguistics department, some students also gathered outside Crucet's hotel.

Crucet was moved to another hotel, in another town, but was unaware it was because students had gathered outside her original hotel. She did not learn of this until she read the statement from the Writing and Linguistics department.

GSU freshman St. Pierre tells Yahoo Lifestyle he was not present during the book burning, and while he respects the student's First Amendment rights, he does not feel like it was an appropriate response. It is a sentiment that echos GSU's official statement.

"While it’s within the students’ First Amendment rights, book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values nor does it encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas," Jennifer Wise, director of communications for GSU, said in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle.

Despite plenty of input from students who may have felt “attacked” for being white, many students, faculty, alumni and community members have rallied behind Crucet.

"The most bitterly ironic part of this whole fiasco is these students who feign outrage over their disagreement with an author, demonstrate the very existence of white privilege through their actions," John A. Weaver, professor of curriculum studies, wrote in a letter to the editor published in the George-Anne. "They thought it was within their rights to burn books while so many others are denied access to books and educational opportunities. Some of them thought it was within their rights to follow the author to her hotel and harass her while people with less privilege would have been arrested for criminal trespass."

Amanda Konkle, an assistant professor of film studies and English, said she was unable to comment as a representative of the university, but did tweet a message of support to Crucet.

"As a department, we believe literature has the power to transform our world," read the department of literature's official statement in a Facebook post. "The stories we tell and how we tell them shape our worldviews. Last night’s display of hate and bigotry are values that we as a department reject. We stand in solidarity with Jennine Capó Crucet."

The day after the incident, the Georgia Southern Counseling Center shared on Facebook that they have a "diverse staff of clinicians who are prepared to support students' emotional needs" following the incident, which could have been "traumatizing to Latinx/Hispanic students and other marginalized communities."

GSU's student body is comprised of 63 percent white students, 24 percent black, and six percent Hispanic.

"The Counseling Center values the cultural identities and diversity of all Georgia Southern students," the statement read.

Crucet's lecture scheduled on Thursday on the university's Armstrong campus was canceled "due to unforeseen circumstances." However, according to a tweet written by Crucet, the GSU "could not guarantee my safety or the safety of its students on campus because of open carry laws."

"This book began as an act of love and an attempt at deeper understanding," Crucet said in her Facebook statement. "I hope GSU can act from the same place and work to affirm the humanity of those students who might understandably feel unsafe in the aftermath of the event and the book burning, and that the campus continues the difficult and necessary conversation that began in that auditorium."

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