A Florida Atlantic University student is accusing an instructor and local Democratic party leader of suspending him for refusing to stomp on a piece of paper with the word “Jesus” written on it.
Mediaite reported on Friday that junior Ryan Rotela said he has been barred from returning to his intercultural communications class after complaining about an exercise assigned by his professor, Deandre Poole, three weeks ago.
“I said to the professor, ‘With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I just do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate, I believe it was unprofessional, and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.’” Rotela told WPEC-TV.
Rotela, who identifies himself as a Mormon, said that he put the paper back on his desk instead of stomping on it.
“Any time you stomp on something, it shows that you believe that something has no value,” he said. “If you were to stomp on the word ‘Jesus,’ it says that the word has no value.”
Poole was also identified as the vice-chairperson of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, which lists him as a captain for Precinct 7021, covering West Palm Beach. According to his a short biography for him, Poole’s political activities “involve community empowerment, and working with community leaders and elected officials to insure the needs of all people.”
Rotela told the station that after telling Poole’s supervisor, associate professor Noemi Marin, about the incident, he was suspended from the class.
“I’m being punished,” Rotela said. “And like I said, I’m still waiting for an apology from somebody.”
In a statement, the university said Poole’s lesson was taken from a textbook, Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.
“Faculty and students at academic institutions pursue knowledge and engage in open discourse,” the school said in the statement. “While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.”
WPEC reported on Friday that The Liberty Institute, a faith-based law firm based out of Texas, has offered pro bono services to Rotella in the event he pursues a lawsuit against Poole or the university.
“I was very shocked by what the professor had the students do,” said the firm’s director of legal services, Hiram Sasser. “And equally shocked that the university would back such an assignment and that they would take action against a student for reporting it.”
In January, another faculty member, James Tracy, was criticized for suggesting that recent mass shootings like the December 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut were staged by the government.
Update, 3:36 p.m. EST: Fox News commentator Todd Starnes reported on Thursday that Fox had obtained a synopsis of the lesson, but that, while it asked students to write ‘Jesus’ on a piece of a paper and put it on the floor before asking them to step on it, objections such as Rotela’s are part of the lesson plan.
“Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper,” the synopsis said. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
Watch WPEC’s report on Rotella’s run-in with a professor, aired Wednesday, below.