Courtesy of Jennine Capó Crucet

Crucet's fictional novel is rooted in her own experiences coming to Cornell as the daughter of Cuban refugees.

October 17, 2019

Cornell Alumna’s Speech Canceled After Students Threaten Her, Burn Book

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Georgia Southern University cancelled a second appearance by author Jennine Capó Crucet ’03 after a few students burned copies of her book, following a heated exchange during her first talk, where she spoke about diversity and the college experience.

Crucet spoke at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro on Oct. 9, and was slated to speak at the Savannah campus on Oct. 10, before the event was cancelled. She was invited as a part of GSU’s First-Year Experience, in which students read her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers.

The book centers on a first-generation student and daughter of Cuban immigrants who is accepted into an elite university and struggles to understand the privileged world of her new campus.

Crucet, the daughter of Cuban refugees, grew up in southern Florida before attending Cornell. She is now an assistant professor of English and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and a New York Times contributor. Crucet previously spoke at Cornell in November 2017, after winning the 2017 Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing for excellence in publication.

During the talk she read “Imagine Me Here, or How I Became a Professor,” an essay from her latest book, My Time Among the Whites, she said in a Twitter statement on Oct. 11.

Throughout her work, Crucet also details many culture shocks she experienced as a first-generation student at Cornell.

One example was during Orientation Week, when her whole family — parents, younger sister and grandmother — traveled from Miami to Ithaca. They stayed for the whole week, assuming they all needed to be there for its entirety, going with her from department offices to dining halls. She recalls navigating the new landscape without a “road map” from Cornell to explain what she was “supposed to do once [she] made it to campus.”

In the statement, she explained that her books have appeared frequently as common reading selections for numerous colleges and she has given this talk before.

“Nothing close to the events at GSU has occurred,” she said.

According to The George-Anne, GSU’s student-run newspaper, during the Oct. 9 talk, Crucet opened up the conversation to audience questions after talking about her book.

“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” one audience member said, according to The George-Anne.

“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,” said the audience member.

About 60% of GSU’s 26,000 students described themselves as white, as of fall 2018.

Amidst agitated reactions from the audience, Crucet 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,” 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.”

Crucet later said that the question resulted in students “shouting back and forth at each other in the auditorium.”

Following the talk, Crucet signed books, where she “met some very amazing, brilliant students,” where they shared tearful embraces and they thanked her for mirroring their experiences, according to her tweet that night.

“I‘m happy to know them and also legit worried for their safety,” she said.

Later that night, tweets surfaced of students burning copies of her book in a grill.

In her Twitter statement, she said her campus hosts moved her to a hotel in another town, because a crowd had formed outside her original accommodations.

However, a spokesperson for the school’s department of writing and linguistics wrote on Facebook that the crowd had been reported in error, in part by the department.

GSU spokeswoman Jennifer Wise originally told AP that Crucet cancelled the second talk. However, Crucet wrote on Twitter on Thursday that GSU canceled the event due to safety concerns for both her and the students, specifically naming “open carry laws.”

A 2017 Georgia “campus carry” law allows guns on parts of public college campuses.

Wise told the AP that university officials didn’t plan to discipline the students.

University President Kyle Marrero sent an email, according to the AP, saying 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.”

“Yes, I wish our students had engaged in a reasoned discussion,” Marrero wrote Friday. “And yes, I wish these discussions had not deteriorated or led to broad generalizations that paint an ugly picture about our university.”