Hialeah-raised author Jennine Capó Crucet has been the focus of a controversy since her presentation on diversity at Georgia Southern University angered students, who then burned her books.
Capó Crucet, whose parents are Cuban, was invited to the university to speak about her novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, one of the books assigned to all freshmen under the school’s First-Year Experience (FYE) program to help their transition from high school to the university.
Inspired partly by her experience at Cornell University, the book covers the difficulties faced by a young Hispanic woman at a prestigious and predominantly white university.
After her presentation the night of Oct. 9 at the university’s Performing Arts Center, Capó Crucet took questions from the students. That’s when one of the students made a comment that unleashed an argument, according to the university newspaper, The George-Anne.
“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” one student 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.”
“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,” Capó Crucet replied, according to the student newspaper.
The author later Tweeted that the reaction to her work was “hostile” and reflected exactly the issues of the essay she read during her presentation, titled Imagine Me Here, or How I Became a Professor.
“It was surreal and strange,” she added. “I answered the question with the same response that I cite in the essay, and mentioned out loud that this moment felt like déjà vu.”
The newspaper reported that Capó Crucet continued answering questions “politely.” Some of the students supported the author.
But later that night, a video posted on Twitter showed books being burned and the text “They are burning the FYE books.” The burning took place in an outdoor grill near one of the university dormitories.
When Capó Crucet tweeted about the book burning, at least one of the students accused her of using the incident to promote her book.
“Are you usually that racist or were you putting on a front to promote your pointless and sh---y book at my college? Just a question,” wrote one identified only as Caitlin.
Capó Crucet also reported on Twitter that her hosts at the university were forced to change her planned accommodations for the night.
She added that she was concerned for the safety of students who supported her and thanked her for the presentation.
“This book began as an act of love and deep understanding,” she wrote, adding that she hoped the university would continue the conversation started with her presentation.
The book burning was criticized by several organizations that defend freedom of expression, such as PEN America.
The university did not discipline the book burners, but President Kyle Marrero sent a letter to students and professors.
“While it’s within the students’ First Amendment rights, book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values,” Marrero wrote.