Telling Intercultural Communications students to stomp on a piece of paper with “Jesus” written on it was supposed to illustrate the power of symbols. (Why not an “Allah” stomp? That’s a really powerful symbol!) Now Florida Atlantic University has apologized for the “Jesus” stomp exercise, but denied suspending the student who complained about it.
“This exercise will not be used again,” FAU officials said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”
The exercise came from a book by a St. Norbert College communications professor, Jim Neuliep.
“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,” the exercise states. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
“We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the university statement claimed, adding that students weren’t required to step on the paper.
Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, was charged with violating the student code of conduct and ordered not to attend class, according to Fox News. He’d told instructor Deandre Poole that he objected to the exercise, saying “don’t do that again” and “you’ll be hearing from me.”
. . . according to a letter written by Associate Dean Rozalia Williams, Rotela is facing a litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”
“In the interim, you may not attend class or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means,” Williams wrote to Rotela. “Please be advised that a Student Affairs hold may be placed on your records until final disposition of the complaint.”
Presumably, the charges have been dropped, but FAU, a state university, didn’t admit Rotela had been threatened and didn’t apologize to him.
The professor had a right to ask students to stomp on “Jesus,” but can’t require them to violate their religious beliefs, argues FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff, citing a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case. Protesting the exercise was a classic exercise of free speech rights.
Another FAU communications professor, James Tracy, has questioned “whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place —at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”