FAU "Jesus Stomp" Professor Physically Threatened by Student, Deandre Poole Says
Deandre Poole's class had just finished wrapping up when student Ryan Rotela approached him angrily, one hand balled up into a fist.
The class had just participated in the now infamous so-called "Jesus Stomping" exercise, and Rotela, a self-proclaimed religious person, objected to Professor Poole's manner of teaching.
"I want to hit you," Rotella allegedly said to Poole.
"How dare you disrespect religion," the student said, angrily striking his balled-up fist into an open palm. "Don't do it again or I'll go to the papers, to the media."
"You have to leave now," Poole calmly told the student.
This is how the FAU incident went down, according to Poole, who agreed to speak with New Times and tell his side of events.
According to Poole, he never told his students to "stomp" on the name of Jesus, as has been widely reported since the incident became public.
"As I began the activity, I followed the manual," Poole says. "Did not tell the students to throw [the paper] on the floor or to stomp on it. I told them to lay it on the floor and step on it. I said 'You don't have to. It's your choice. Now let's discuss it.'"
At this point, Rotela sat down and began to try to get the professor's attention.
"Brother, brother, brother," Rotela supposedly called out.
"I'm not your brother," Poole replied. "You don't have to disrespect me like that."
This is where the stories on Rotela seem to collide with Poole's. "I'm not religious," Poole claims Rotela had said. "But how dare you disrespect someone's religion? You're not professional."
Instead of engaging Rotela and allowing things to derail from the point of the exercise, Poole decided to move on.
"Let's see what others have to say," he announced to the class.
It was when class was dismissed that Rotela allegedly approached Poole in a confrontational manner. According to Poole, there was at least one other student present -- a "passive observer," as Poole put it.
"As soon as they left, I called security," Poole says. "They came, and I filed an incident report. You have to report that sort of conduct."
Poole says he was contacted by the school's dean's office some days later and gave a statement over the phone.
When the communications class resumed the Monday following spring break, the objecting student was absent. "I understood he had been told not to attend until the matter was resolved," Poole says.
Poole says he heard nothing more until March 21, when the objecting student's version of events appeared on television news and was picked up and reverberated throughout the nation.
"I was powerless," Poole says of the storm of reactions. "There was a flood of hate mail, emails, threats to my 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."
Poole, who has taught the exercise in his classes before without incident, explains that he was aware that some students may object to stepping on the name "Jesus" -- as per the manual that teaches the exercise.
"I explain that meanings are not in words but in people," he says. "It's important not to react to others' words based on our culture's understanding of the words. There's a difference between literal meaning and emotional meaning. It can be difficult for students who lack a background in communications."
Yet, as things go with the media and headlines, the incident snowballed and has put Poole and FAU in the spotlight.
Poole objects to the way the story has been covered, particularly with the way headlines have said that he said "stomp on Jesus."
"'Stomp Jesus, stomp Jesus, stomp Jesus.' I never said 'stomp,'" Poole says.
As for class participation, Poole reiterated that his students were not required to part take in the exercise. "No one was required," he says. "Not true. It's just not true."
This is a far cry from earlier reports that insinuated that Rotela was suspended for not participating in the exercise and that Poole has been painted to be an anti-Christian, anti-religion professor with some sort of dark agenda.
But that hasn't stopped FAU from handing down decisions based purely on knee-jerk reactions.
On March 23, the university ordered the exercise removed from Poole's class and converted the class to online instruction.
Then, late last week, Poole was placed on administrative leave, for his for "personal safety."
The professor, who teaches at FAU under a year-to-year contract, wouldn't discuss the school's handling of the affair.
Poole said he's been in contact with victim's advocacy groups and with local and county law enforcement, who he says were "very helpful." He says he has not reached out to advocacy groups like the NAACP or ACLU.
"I really want to put this behind me and get back to a normal life," he tells New Times. "I hope to teach again at FAU. I have good rapport with students, and I want to make a difference in their lives."
Poole said his church has been a major source of strength to him throughout the controversy.
"They've been very supportive of me," he said. "They've been praying for me. They put me in the middle of a circle and the pastor anointed me with oil and placed his hands on me while they prayed for me. It's been part of my life since I was a child."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.