Georgia college students protest author’s message by burning books

On Oct. 9, 2019, author Jennine Capó Crucet visited the Georgia Southern University (GSU) campus to discuss her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, a story that deals with issues of diversity and inclusion in higher education. Students responded to her lecture with a mix of hostility and support. Following the event, protesters gathered outside the hotel where Crucet was staying, after which videos of students burning Crucet’s book began circulating on social media.

Key Players

Jennine Capó Crucet is a Cuban American novelist and associate professor at the University of Nebraska. She is known for her short-story collection, How to Leave Hialeah; her novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers; and her most recent work, My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education. Her stories address themes of racial inequality and white privilege in the United States, specifically pertaining to systems of higher education.

Further Details 

Make Your Home Among Strangers follows the journey of a Cuban American girl grappling with the struggles of immigration and life as a first-generation minority student attending an elite university. Entering  students at GSU were assigned the book as a part of their First-Year Experience course curriculum, which culminated with Crucet visiting the school.

Crucet’s talk at GSU expanded upon the ideas presented in the novel by addressing the presence of white privilege and racial inequality at the school itself, which, according to 2018 enrollment statistics, is 60.4% white. After Crucet opened up her presentation to a Q&A, heated discourse ensued. 

According to GSU’s student-run publication, The George-Anne, one student said: “I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged. 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.” Students in the audience began to shout in favor and against the student’s comment, some chanting “Trump 2020.” Crucet ultimately responded, “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.”

Later that night, students gathered outside the hotel Crucet was staying at, prompting her to find other lodging. A video of students burning Crucet’s book on a grill was later posted on Twitter, accompanied by a number of angry tweets directed at Crucet. 

After the incident, Crucet released a statement on Twitter: “Nothing close to the events at GSU has occurred during any of my previous campus visits. … This book began as an act of love and an attempt at deeper understanding. 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.” On Oct. 11, Free Speech advocacy group PEN America posted a response stating that the GSU students involved should face repercussions for their actions, given that “Book burning has a long history as a tactic to intimidate, silence, and denigrate the value of intellectual exchange.” 


GSU students face no consequences

Although administrators were quick to decry the actions depicted in the video (the president of the student body, university president, and several faculty members wrote statements expressing their disappointment in the students, according to CNN), GSU spokeswoman Jennifer Wise stated that the university does not plan to pursue action against those students involved in burning Crucet’s book, as their choice is protected under the First Amendment. However, several GSU representatives have clarified that the university does not condone such destructive behavior. GSU’s vice president of communications noted that “book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values nor does it encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas.” GSU student Carlin Blalock told The George-Anne, “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.”