FAU Professor Dr. Deandre Poole has broken his silence since being embroiled in the so-called "Jesus Stomping" controversy that derailed into what seems to be a disconcerting theater of the absurd.
Since the FAU professor held a class in which he asked his students to write Jesus on a piece of paper, fold said paper, put it on the floor, and then step on it, and one of the students, Ryan Rotela, refused to participate because it offended him as a religious person, which supposedly eventually got the student suspended, Poole has been placed on leave for "his own safety."
In an interview with InsideHigherEd.com, Poole says that he has since received death threats and hate mail and clarifies that Rotela was not, in fact, suspended for not participating in the class exercise.
According to Poole, Rotela approached him after class to express his offense with a balled fist that he slammed into his other hand. Poole says Rotela told the professor that "he wanted to hit me."
Poole notified campus security, which led to Rotela's suspension.
Rotela's account of his suspension is that he himself went to a school administrator to talk about his concerns over the class exercise.
Either way, the story has since blown up, with Rick Scott weighing in on the situation and praising Rotela for his bravery in "standing up for his faith" while reprimanding FAU and Poole.
Then, as we reported Friday, FAU placed Poole on a leave of absence for his own safety.
Poole tells Inside Higher Education that he is, in fact, a Christian and that he never told his class to "stomp" on Jesus -- which is the word used in most headlines reporting the incident.
"I am very religious," he said. "I see how the name 'Jesus' is symbolic. For people like myself, Jesus is my lord and savior. It's how I identify myself as a Christian."
Poole says that the exercise required students to step (not stomp) on the folded paper with the word "Jesus" on it but that it was meant to cause discussion of feelings and to learn the power of symbols through emotional impact.
Instead, Rotela's side of the story broke first, and now Poole is on paid leave for doing his job.
"My safety has been in question," he says. "There are churches that want to march against me. There are people calling on the university to fire me. And it's all for doing my job. I was doing my job."
Poole, who is African-American, says he's received death threats and, because some people are horrible racists, messages about hanging him from a tree.
FAU has since banned the exercise from being taught at the university, which was a completely dumb and reactionary move on its part.
And Poole, who has one more year left on his contract, is left wondering if he will be able to return next semester.
He says he hopes he can return.
"I love my students, and I want to continue to make a difference in their lives," he said.
As we've mentioned before, if Rotela was indeed suspended for not participating in an exercise that offended him, that would be bad. It's equally appalling, though, that Poole has to deal with the daily stress of hate mail and death threats.
FAU's knee-jerk reaction to the entire episode has been absurd.
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