Florida Atlantic University said Friday night it will no longer ask students in an intercultural communications class to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it.
The exercise created an uproar after a student complained. Ryan Rotela of Coral Springs said he objected during a March 4 class at FAU’s Davie campus taught by Deandre Poole, who is vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.
After he complained, Rotela said, FAU accused him of threatening Poole.
FAU officials issued a statement of apology, saying the exercise was optional and that no students had been disciplined as a result of it.
“This exercise will not be used again,” the statement continued. “The University holds dear its core values. We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”
Poole did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s the second time in less than a year that a county Democratic official has been accused of offending Christians. Former Chairman Mark Alan Siegel resigned last year after saying fundamentalist Christians who support Israel really “want us to be there so we can all be slaughtered or converted on the second coming of Jesus Christ.” Siegel apologized for the remark.
County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said Poole was merely following an exercise in a textbook.
The exercise, Rizzo said, is meant “to encourage discussion among the students about how different cultures apply different meanings to symbols. … It encourages a healthy discussion.”
She added: “Deandre himself is a Christian. He goes to church.”
The exercise is included in the instructor’s manual for the textbook, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.”
“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” says the manual, which predicts most students will hesitate to step on the paper. The manual says the instructor should ask students why they can’t step on the paper and “discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
Rotela said Poole brushed him off when he tried to object to doing the exercise.
After the class, Rotela said, he expressed his concerns to Poole and said he would tell Poole’s supervisor and the media about the incident. He said Poole told him to leave the classroom.
After complaining to Poole’s supervisor at FAU’s main campus in Boca Raton, Rotela said he met with a hearing officer who questioned his account in a “hostile” way and accused Rotela of threatening Poole. Rotela received a letter dated March 8 telling him he had been charged with violating FAU’s code of conduct. The letter tells him not to attend Poole’s class or contact any students involved until the matter is resolved.
Rotela says he didn’t threaten Poole and doesn’t think his words could have been interpreted that way.
“I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rotela said. “I don’t believe letting things be known and letting people know what happened is a threat.”
Rotela, 21, said he works for a landscaping service and takes courses part time in pursuit of a communications degree. He hopes to go to law school.
Asked about his religious beliefs, Rotela said he attends a Mormon church but “I identify myself as just Ryan, Christian, believes in God.”