SGA Holds Open Forum on Book Burning Incident

Jason Chapman, Staff Writer

“You’re going to hear university administration say they were bound to certain policies and laws that prevent them from taking action among students that burned a Cuban-American woman’s literature for calling students privileged for being white, part of the irony that after these students were called privileged they did probably the most privileged thing they could do, they burned books, the fact that our top officials not taking further action does not mean that we as students can not either,” said SGA Executive Vice President Spencer DeMink in his opening statement, at the open forum to discuss the book burning that took place on the Statesboro campus on Oct. 9. The forum was held on Oct. 14.

The students that took part in the burning of Jennine Capó Crucet’s novel “Make Your Home Among Strangers” on a grill in Statesboro last week are not being sought out or reprimanded because they are protected by their first amendment rights according to administration.

University President Dr. Kyle Marrero said, “Here we are we’re dialoguing about something that happened last week that we have to press into… This is a campus of which we have to unite together and understand what we will tolerate what we will allow to happen on our campus’ and then how we will uphold First Amendment rights. These aren’t easy. These aren’t easy conversations.”

Marrero went on to name the many First Year Experience (FYE) classes that deal with diversity. He then went through the events that lead up to the book burning. Marrero mentioned, “Students were strongly encouraged but not required to attend her presentation.” However, by multiple accounts, students were told to attend. 

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SGA president Juwan Smith speaking at the forum. Photo by Jason Chapman.

Marrero then went on to clarify that there were never crowds gathering outside of the Crucet’s hotel. 

Marrero said, “I am not able to respond as quickly as you would like me to respond. I don’t respond at the speed of social media.” 

The event was investigated by campus authorities and a statement was released. Marrero said, “It wasn’t until we had via investigation enough information for me to respond to campus. The approval for that statement was expedited via the legal and system process and sent to campus Friday afternoon.”

 The event occurred on Wednesday night. 

Marrero went on, “Some of you would like to see more formal action taken on the students in the video and I can empathize–I can sympathize with your frustration and even your anger. My job. My job is to protect the rights of all students.”

Students were then given a chance to ask questions. The first question was, “From your perspective how can I, a white person, address somebody else’s white privilege when they don’t address it existing?”

Marrero replied with his experience of being born in Puerto Rico and growing up in New Mexico. He then goes onto to tell us of his realization that he understands what privilege is and “that it’s real.”

Marrero said, “This is a real subject area of which we all need to understand and understand those perspectives together.”

Another student brought up the fact that these issues of racism are systemic issues, and talks about how the people teaching these classes aren’t qualified because of budget cuts. She said, “If these hard conversations were had in class then it wouldn’t have been such a huge deal at the event… What I do believe is that the university is trying to put a bandaid over a bullet hole… Are these professors–are these advisors going to be taught how to have these hard conversations?”

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The students in attendance at the open forum. Photo by Jason Chapman.

Marrero stepped away from the microphone and lets the VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Carl Reiber answer this question.

Reiber went on to urge students to look at the syllabus, and said that Armstrong’s FYE classes have been predominantly taught by advisors.

Chief of Staff Brian Kohler then said, “Two years ago the advisors weren’t teaching first year seminar on this campus and also for the past three years the SGA, since before consolidation, has been trying to push for mandated diversity training for professors, advisors.” 

There was no reply to Kohler’s statement. 

The next question was written anonymously, “Why must minorities and persons of color rise above the blatant hate that people of caucasian descent show?”

Marrero replied, “Why must? What’s the alternative? The alternative is we cease to exist in an environment of which we can collaborate together that we can learn more from each other. Does it ask more of those in minority to step up and have to engage? Oh absolutely.”

The next question was, “On the Armstrong campus we have to fill out an open flames request. Based on your facts that you presented in your speech earlier you said that the students burned a grill on the Georgia Southern campus in the student complex. Do they have to fill out an open flames request form?”

Marrero referred the question to Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Melanie Miller.

Miller said, “Outside of the complexes there are grills that are built into the ground that are permanently there and this was one of those grills. I don’t think you have to get permission to.”

The student replied with, “Are those grills Georgia Southern property?”

Miller said, “I assume they are. Yes.” 

The student then goes on, “Well then why don’t they have to fill out a form? If the grill that we use here on Armstrong’s campus is Georgia Southern property and the grill that they use at their student complexes are Georgia Southern property, why are they not filling out open flames request forms and going through the proper training that we have to do here?”

Marrero commented, “Great point. I learned something.”