Jennine Capó Crucet, the Latina author whose novel was burned at Georgia Southern University after she gave a campus speech about diversity and white privilege, spoke out on Friday, calling the students’ hostile actions “devastating.”
Capó Crucet was invited to speak to freshmen after her 2015 novel Make Your Home Among Strangers—the story of a Cuban-American girl who attends a prestigious college in New York and struggles to fit into the predominantly white environment—was chosen for the school’s First Year Experience selection. The university asked the writer to give a speech that expanded on the themes of her novel, which she had previously done at Stanford University and Albion College without incident, she said in a statement on Friday.
But during her lecture and Q&A session on Wednesday, some students reportedly felt that Capó Crucet was “dissing” and “bullying” white people, and an exchange became heated.
The student newspaper, The Georgia-Anne, reported that a white student took to the microphone to accuse Capó Crucet of making “generalizations” about white people, and the author responded that white privilege is “a real thing that you are actually benefiting from right now in even asking this question.”
“Her hostile reaction to my work closely mirrored the exchange that I recount in the essay itself. It was very surreal and strange,” Capó Crucet wrote in Friday’s statement. “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.”
When the talk concluded, a group of students reportedly gathered and burned Capó Crucet’s novel, while others tagged her in social-media photos of ripped-apart copies of the book.
“During the event, and afterward during the book signing, many students remarked on how much the story of the novel’s protagonist mirrored their own, and expressed gratitude for the book—both to me for writing it, and to GSU for selecting it,” Capó Crucet wrote. “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.”
The school’s department of writing and linguistics said in a statement that it was “dismayed and disappointed” by the night’s events, which allegedly included some students gathering outside her hotel.
“We assert that destructive and threatening acts do not reflect the values of Georgia Southern University,” said Russell Willerton, department chairman.
Capó Crucet said she was moved to a different hotel in another town, but she wasn’t aware of the reasoning—that a group of apparently angry students had gathered outside—until she read Willerton’s statement.
Days later, Georgia Southern said in a statement that the department was incorrect in its claim that students had gathered outside Capó Crucet’s hotel.
“Contrary to an earlier statement by one of our departments, there was no report to university police of anyone threatening Jennine Capó Crucet or trying to harass her or visit her at her hotel,” said a spokeswoman. “We contacted the owner of the establishment where she was scheduled to stay on Wednesday night, and the owner confirmed there were never any unwanted visitors that evening.”
Capó Crucet said her 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,” she added.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Georgia Southern University correcting a previous claim that students had gathered outside of the author’s hotel.