A Latinx author’s college talk about the ills of white privilege got the predominantly white crowd so riled up, a group of them decided to use her book as kindling.
Jennine Capó Crucet was invited to the campus of Georgia Southern University to discuss themes from her novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, about the travails and experiences of a Cuban-American student during her first year at a predominantly white college.
The book, as well as Crucet’s discussion at the university, tackled issues of white privilege and diversity.
During the Q-and-A session for the Wednesday night event, a white student grabbed the mic and questioned Crucet’s “authority” to speak on the issues of race and privilege, according to the student paper, The George-Anne:
“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” one respondent said into the microphone. “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.”
Crucet immediately responded to the student with audible reactions from the audience.
“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.
“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.”
Crucet, in a statement she released on Twitter Friday, said she found the student’s “hostile” response to her work “very surreal and strange,” as it somewhat mirrored what Crucet wrote about.
Students began shouting back-and-forth, and Crucet said she asked school administrators to follow up with the student whose comments had sparked the uproar, saying that the matter deserved a more involved response than what could be accomplished in a single forum or evening.
Things finally quieted and the talk seemed to conclude with no further controversy.
But later that night, as the Washington Post reports, a group of students gathered outdoors and burned copies of her book:
Some of the perpetrators even sent Crucet tweets with images depicting pages from her work being torn, the Post reports:
“Enjoy this picture of your book!” a tweet captured by the George-Anne said. “Have a nice night, Jennine. :-)”
Much of the offending tweets and images were later deleted, and as the Daily Beast reports, the school’s writing department said it was “dismayed and disappointed” by what took place.
“We assert that destructive and threatening acts do not reflect the values of Georgia Southern University,” said Russell Willerton, department chairman.
But while some students at the Statesboro, Ga., school expressed disgust and shame, others defended the actions.
“It makes me feel like we are being represented really badly. It makes me feel like these people make us look as a school and even as a freshman class really ignorant and racist,” Carlin Blalock, a freshman music education student, told the George-Anne.
However, students who spoke with BuzzFeed, anonymously (of course), defended the white students’ white tears.
“She wanted everyone to be equal and says she is against racism but she was shitting on white people the whole time,” one 18-year-old male student said of Crucet to BuzzFeed . “I can understand the message she was trying to get out but I don’t know what reaction she was expecting when she comes to a school that’s 75 percent white. I agree there is such a thing as white privilege but the way she was saying it was not OK to our student body.”
Students BuzzFeed spoke with said they felt white people had been “bullied” and “attacked.”
Really? By having to suffer by having to listen to someone rebut their treasured sense of self. The pity.
Crucet said that after her talk, students came up to her to share how much they saw of themselves in her work. She feared the book burning could represent a triggering “erasure” of those students’ lived experience.
“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 space—feels devastating,” she said.