When a Latina author discussed white privilege at a public university in Georgia, a group of white students burned copies of her book.
A video of the book-burning went viral, prompting condemnation by PEN America, an advocacy group that promotes free expression.
The school did not condemn the book burning. In a statement, Georgia Southern University said its students have a right to burn books if they choose, but said book burning does not “encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas”.
A university spokeswoman said the school was “not planning any actions against any of the students involved in this incident”.
In a letter to students and faculty, the university president, Kyle Marrero, said: “While it’s within the students’ first amendment rights, book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values.”
Jennine Capó Crucet, a novelist and author of short stories, said social media images of her books being burned came on the same day she gave a campus talk about diversity and the college experience.
Capó Crucet is the author of a critically acclaimed novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, which follows a Latina student at a prestigious, primarily white university. Her most recent book is a collection of essays, My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education.
In a statement, she said her discussion of the book was followed by a contentious question-and-answer session which included a white student questioning “whether I had the authority to discuss issues of race and white privilege on campus”.
The George-Anne, the university’s student newspaper, reported that Capó Crucet was criticised on social media for “dissing white people” and sent a tweet showing her book being ripped up and another of a book being set on fire.
“Work on your ignorance and racism towards white people,” another tweet read, according to the George-Anne.
Such angry reactions left Capó Crucet concerned about students on campus who might “understandably feel unsafe”, she wrote.
Some Georgia Southern students had spoken to her about how much her novel had resonated, Capó Crucet wrote, adding that it was “devastating” to think of those students watching as their peers set her books on fire.
In his letter, however, Marrero referred to “the night’s events” as “another example of freedom of expression and a continuing debate of differing ideas”.
The official response prompted criticism including from PEN America, which said the school “should go further in condemning this act for the intolerance it represents”.
The incident was “deeply disturbing”, Jonathan Friedman, director of the campus free speech project at PEN America, said in a statement.
While book burning is a “protected act of expression”, Friedman said, it “has a long history as a tactic to intimidate, silence and denigrate the value of intellectual exchange”.
so after our FYE book’s author came to my school to talk about it… these people decide to burn her book because “it’s bad and that race is bad to talk about”. white people need to realize that they are the problem and that their privilege is toxic. author is a woman of color. pic.twitter.com/HiX4lGT7Ci
— elaina⭐️ (@elainaaan) October 10, 2019
The Twitter account that shared a viral video of Capó Crucet’s books being burned apologized to her on behalf of the university.
Capó Crucet’s publishing house did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The university will hold an “open forum” next week to discuss the book-burning incident, the George-Anne reported.
Source: The Guardian