“If the professor wishes to engage and defend his actions in the belief that he was right, then I respond with this challenge: Go on the television with me and take it once again to the court of public opinion,” Rotela said on his Facebook page.
Rotela was suspended in March 2013 after he refused to participate in an exercise in an intercultural communication class taught by Poole. A lesson synopsis obtained by Fox News at the time said the lesson called for students to be asked to write the word “Jesus” on paper, put it on the floor, then step on it in the hopes of encouraging discussion.
“Most will hesitate,” the lesson plan said. “Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
But according to Poole, Rotella not only refused to participate, he physically threatened him. Poole told New Times that after class, Rotella approached him and said, “I want to hit you.”
Poole told the newspaper he followed the lesson plan, but that Rotella, a self-identified Mormon, accused him of disrespecting religion.
“Don’t do it again or I’ll go to the papers, to the media,” said, according to Poole.
Poole, who is also the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, said that he reported the incident to campus security and did not hear about it until Rotela’s story was picked up by both local and national news outlets. Since then, he said, he has been the target of harassment and death threats, to the point that he was placed on leave from the university on March 29 for his own safety.
“There was a flood of hate mail, emails, threats to my safety,” said Poole, who spoke with New Times from a secret location out of fear for his safety. “They called me ‘stupid,’ ‘dummy,’ ‘anti-Christian. Said I ‘don’t deserve to teach.’ One seared into my mind said I’d end up hanging from a tree.”
For his part, Rotella has refused to be interviewed regarding the alleged confrontation.
“Note to media,” he said on Facebook on March 28. “Please, I don’t need to do interviews; why not interview a movie star for their opinions? That is why they picked the profession in the first place. I did what I did because I knew it was right.”
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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