By Ana Gabriela García
It was a busy few days for Jennine Capó Crucet, assistant professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska and author of Elon’s common reading “How to Make Your Home Among Strangers.”
During her two-day visit to Elon University, Jennine was invited to host two sets of Core Forums, have lunch with English majors, have coffee with Elon’s Hispanic/Latino community at El Centro de Español and speak to creative writing classes; in addition to giving a speech at Alumni Gym.
Wherever she went, she engaged students with her quick wit and dry humor. While always fostering an environment of understanding and openness as she tackled topics of inclusivity, race and diversity on college campuses.
Lauren Kier, a professor of sociology at Elon University who attended one of Jennine’s Q&A’s and the author’s speech at alumni gym, said about Jennine: “She’s just so personable. I just think she’s really down to earth and that just makes someone really interesting to talk to.”
“I always love that, when I see that a speaker is just connecting with students. And that’s what she (Jennine Capó) does.
– Lauren Kier
Isabel, a student at Elon University who attended Jennine’s speech at Alumni Gym also had positive feedback regarding Jennine and the topics she chose to discuss with Elon students. “I thought professor Capó’s talk was very powerful because it was honest, straightforward and entertaining in a way that truly made me reflect on her experience and that go many first generation college students–or of just any student coming into a new environment.”
“I’m really glad that this (Make Your Home Among Strangers) was this year’s common reading, and this is a topic that I believe every Elon student will find themselves discussing at some point of their college education.”
These are the biggest takeaways from Jennine Capó’s conversations with students:
Discomfort is where growth happens
Jennine reiterated this idea many times during her Core Forums and in her speech at Alumni Gym. The author was mainly referring to ‘discomfort’ in the context of participating in new experiences or discussions in college. Urging students to always be willing to be uncomfortable. According to the author, “To be uncomfortable is a precondition to growing.”
Faculty and students should work at understanding each other
During Thursdays Core Forum Q&A in the Great Hall at Global Commons, professor Capó encouraged students to learn more about their own professor’s and to seek out their books. In order to have good relationships with their professors, students have to be just as interested in the faculty, as the faculty is of them.
The student’s job is to know the value of their teacher’s work.”
– Jennine Capó Crucet
The faculty should be just as diverse as the student body
While on the subject of inclusivity and student-teacher dynamics, Jennine asked the Core Forum: “When you look at your professors, do a lot of them look like you?” She challenged Elon students to think about the privilege of having a professor that can represent them, and to think about what message their University is sending about diversity with their faculty.
This is especially relevant at Elon University, where there is a lack of diversity within the faculty. An article published on ENN earlier this year by Stephanie Ntim found that only 25% of Elon’s faculty members identified as a person of color, in 2015. More worrying still, it was reported in the 2015 Presidential Task Force that 74% of the 63 black faculty and staff members at Elon 74% reported having been belittled with race-related comments. It is interesting to note that out of the 151 black student respondents, 65% reported also having similar experiences.
For Jennine, diversifying faculty at college campuses is a subject that she considers very important, as the lack of diversity within her own undergraduate faculty body greatly influence her college experience. In her speech at Alumni Gym, the author confesses that one of the things that helped her make her home among strangers and stay in college was her menor, and one of the few Latina professors on campus, Helena María Viramontes.
Helena María Viramontes was especially helpful in making Jennine’s college experience a good one because she knew exactly what books to give to Jennine. If these books had never reached her hands, Jennine says she would not be where she is today, nor would she be giving a speech at Elon University.
Coincidentally, the books Helena gave Jennine are major influences in her creative work. In total, there are six books which the author says sit in a special shelf, Jennine’s own ‘Pantheon of Authors.’ These are:
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
- Under the Feet of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes
- Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, by Manuel Muñoz
- The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston
- So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
If you think you want to be a writer- don’t
Finally, the last piece of advice to take away from Jennine’s visit is to try very hard to not become an author. When asked when she had decided to become a writer, the author quipped that for a long time she tried to deny the fact that she wanted to be writer. “If you think you want to be a writer, try to do anything else.” The author said. You become a writer because you have to, because you tried everything else and failed at everything else. Jennine reminded the students that writing doesn’t come with guaranteed recognition or rewards.
“If you find yourself compelled to write, do something else. Try really hard to love something else, and if that fails, then you know that you were meant to be a writer.
I tried to do a lot of different things in my life to make myself happy, and nothing made me as happy as writing. And so, I just sort of gave up and became a writer. Or gave in and became a writer ”
– Jennine Capó Crucet