Jennine Capó Crucet’s book, “Make Your Home Among Strangers,” fell victim to a book-burning protest at Georgia Southern University (GSU) earlier this month. In response, Binghamton University’s English department wrote a public statement condemning the protest.
“The image of burning books evokes powerful associations of racial terror connected to Nazis in 1930s Germany and the burning crosses of the Klu Klux Klan,” the Oct. 21 statement read. “While this book burning cloaks itself in the language of free speech, it is an act of intimidation that contributes to an anti-intellectual atmosphere of silence, fear and domination.”
The protest took place on Oct. 9 at GSU following a talk given by Capó Crucet, who was invited to the university to talk about her book which had been assigned reading in certain first-year classes. The talk, as well as the novel, focused on Capó Crucet’s experiences as a woman of color in a predominantly white academic environment.
Some students at GSU responded negatively to the talk, claiming that Capó Crucet was insulting white people. In turn, they threw copies of Capó Crucet’s book into open flames.
According to Jennifer Stoever, an associate professor of English at BU, the English department felt the statement was important to show solidarity and make it known that they will not tolerate such actions.
“We wanted to offer our support and solidarity to the author, who came to Binghamton University to speak and receive our highest literary award in 2010, the John Gardner Award — [to] our colleagues at GSU and our colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Capó Crucet’s home institution, letting them know that we saw what happened, that we witnessed it for what it was: a very specific speech act connected to the racial terror of the Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan, and we could not be silent about it,” Stoever wrote in an email.
Stoever also wrote that the act is important to address because of a recent rise in racial violence.
“These incidents of overt racial terror are on the rise, and contrary to popular belief, white supremacist violence is not just a ‘Southern thing,’” Stoever wrote. “Many people have been saying this about the GSU incident, but it’s everywhere in this country, particularly right now. The English department collectively refuses the kind of fear that the GSU book burning attempted to engender in us; we will continue producing anti-racist knowledge and we will speak out on our own campus.”
Joseph Keith, chair of the English department and an associate professor of English at BU, wrote in an email that the statement also aims to show the department’s commitment to creating an open and inclusive environment.
“We felt it important to make a statement to our own students and our own campus and as an opportunity to reflect upon the kind of work we can do as a department to foster an inclusive space and where we can consider how racism impacts our campus — our students and colleagues both here at Binghamton and those visiting our university,” Keith wrote in an email.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the book burning incident occurred at Georgia State University. The incident actually occurred at Georgia Southern University, and the article has been updated. Pipe Dream regrets the error.