A lecture led by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor ended in protest and the burning of her book after discussions of white privilege enraged attendees.
On Wednesday, Oct. 9, Jennine Capo Crucet, a Latina author and associate professor of English and ethnic studies, spoke on diversity, her experience as a minority student while in college and her novel “Make Your Home Among Strangers” at Georgia Southern University.
Her novel is a required reading for some first-year students at GSU that follows the story of a first generation Cuban-American woman who is accepted into a prestigious college in New York, as described on the back of her novel.
According to The George-Anne, GSU’s student newspaper, a white student was angered when Capo Crucet started talking about the existence of white privilege during the lecture.
“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” the student said during a question and answer session. “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.”
According to the article, Capo Crucet responded by defending her novel’s theme.
“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,” she said.
Capo Crucet said the interaction with the student during the lecture mirrored one that she included in her collection of essays titled “My Time Among the Whites.”
“After students began shouting back and forth at each other in the auditorium, I asked faculty in the room to please find the student who had posed the question, and other students who were similarly upset, and follow up with them because a compassionate and continuing conversation needed to occur — we weren’t going to answer these questions in one night of discussion,” she said in a statement released Friday on Twitter.
According to The George-Anne, some students stormed out of the lecture early and proceeded to burn Capo Crucet’s book, and some students voiced their outrage or support for Capo Crucet on Twitter. Videos of the book burning flooded Twitter, and some students directly mentioned Capo Crucet so she would see the response.
Capo Crucet also disclosed in her statement that she had given the same presentation at several other schools and nothing similar had happened on those campuses.
“To think of those students watching as a group of their peers burned that story — effectively erasing them on the campus they are expected to think of as a safe place — feels devastating,” she said in the statement.
The Daily Nebraskan has not been able to reach Capo Crucet nor her publisher for comment.
Capo Crucet was originally scheduled to give two speeches at GSU, one at the Statesboro campus and one at the Armstrong campus, but, following the events on Wednesday in Statesboro, The George-Anne reported that the second lecture was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
The George-Anne reported on Friday that Kyle Marrero, GSU’s president, sent an email to faculty and students in response to the event which said that “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.”
Marrero said he believes this incident allowed GSU students the opportunity to continue the debates toward what he calls “inclusive excellence.”
“Yes, I wish our students had engaged in a reasoned discussion,” he said in the email. “And yes, I wish these discussions had not deteriorated or led to broad generalizations that paint an ugly picture about our university.”
Richard Moberly, interim executive vice chancellor at UNL, took to Twitter on Thursday to express support for Capo Crucet.
“I am proud to be on the same faculty as [Capo Crucet] — I appreciate her important work as well as her courage,” Moberly tweeted. “UNL is lucky to have such a talented writer and amazing role model, especially for our [first generation] students. Jennine, thank you for all you do at Nebraska.
Mark Button, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, added to Moberly’s statement on Twitter and expressed his support for Capo Crucet.
“We proudly stand with [Capo Crucet] and are inspired by her example of courage and honesty in the face of ignorance and prejudice,” Button said in his tweet.
GSU’s Department of Writing and Linguistics and Department of English both expressed support for Capo Crucet and apologized for the way events unfolded.
“We believe literature has the power to transform our world,” the GSU English department tweeted. “The stories we tell and how we tell them shape our worldview. Last night’s display of hate and bigotry are values that we as a department reject. We stand in solidarity with [Capo Crucet].”
The George-Anne reported on Friday that, because the students had burned the books inside of a grill and because of freedom of speech, no students would face disciplinary action. The newspaper also reported that the Department of History and the Student Government Association will be hosting additional events this week to further the discussion of diversity and inclusion, censorship and listening to differing views.
Capo Crucet said her book “began as an act of love and an attempt at deeper understanding,” and she hopes GSU can continue that in the future.
“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,” she said in the statement, “and that the campus continues the difficult and necessary conversation that began in that auditorium.”