Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In His Steps, or Stepping on Him?

Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.
The above exercise is supposedly a way to “discuss the importance of symbols in culture.” It comes from the textbook Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida and communications instructor Deandre Poole are front and center of a recent flap over "stomping on Jesus". When Poole used the exercise in his Intercultural Communications class, student Ryan Rotella objected. Initially Rotella was suspended from class, but with everyone in "spin mode" it is hard to discern which version of why he was suspended is true. Regardless, Rotella has been reinstated, Poole has been put on administrative leave (because of death threats, according to FAU), and the university has repudiated the use of such an exercise.

It is likely that the university has banned the exercise because of the public outcry, not anything to do with academic freedom or religious liberty. It's bad publicity! They don't want any more of that. It hasn't been long since the university distanced itself from the theories of James Tracy, a tenured communications professor in the same department as Poole. On his blog Tracy has described the Newtown massacre as a governmental conspiracy rather than a real shooting incident.

Note sure of all the facts of the incident, I will reserve detailed comment. But I found the following reported facts interesting. The complaining student, Ryan Rotella, is a Mormon. The teacher, Deandre Poole, claims to be a Christian and a Sunday School teacher. No other students, Christian or otherwise, evidently refused to participate in the exercise. No other names -- Mohammed, Allah, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin -- are ever "stepped on". James Neuliep, author of the source textbook, is a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at St. Norbert, a Catholic liberal arts college.

Links to various articles and opinions about the controversy:
A Message from Florida Atlantic University
FAU Student Claims He Was Suspended For Refusing To Step On Jesus
Florida Atlantic University 'Jesus stomping' case: Student upset, Governor comments
Florida Atlantic U., Left-Wing Seminary
Florida Atlantic University Professor Has Students Stomp On Paper With Word 'Jesus'
He Didn't Say 'Stomp on Jesus'
'I Was Doing My Job'
‘Jesus Stomp’ Professor on Leave, Getting Death Threats
Professor calls his 'step on Jesus' exercise a 'reaffirmation' of faith
"Stomp on Jesus!"
"Stomp on Jesus!" Update
Victory for Florida Student Who Refused to Stomp on Jesus’ Name

No comments: