The student organizers behind the protests at Florida Atlantic University are currently prepping for a high-noon
showdown Q&A Friday with school President Mary Jane Saunders. The topic on the table is the administration's decision to sell off the Owls' stadium naming rights to the GEO Group, one of the largest prison operators in the world. But students say it's been all uphill trying to get the administration to play ball with terms favorable to open discussion.
Instead, the school seems like it's pressing for a setup conducive to ass-covering. "We are trying to have an open forum," says Dani Feriozzi Guevara, president of LAMBDA United.
The announcement that the prison operator had ponied up $6 million for the naming rights came last week -- and the timing probably wasn't coincidental, Guevara says. This week is midterm exams on FAU's campus, with spring break starting next week. That means the majority of the student body is running around with caffeine/stress-induced tunnel vision, with little left in the tank for social causes.
Regardless, Guevara and others working the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition have crammed a lot of effective action into a short window. They've had protests on campus, started Facebook campaigns, and held a sit-in this week in Saunders' office. The last piece of political theater is what coup'd the administration into the Friday meetup.
"A lot of people don't even know what the GEO Group is, so we're trying to explain what the company is. We are trying to explain it to everyone," Guevara says. "I honestly don't think [the administrators] were expecting negative comments. I think they just expected people not to care and to be happy that we were getting money."
The main point they're trying to get across to the administration? "One of the consequences that can happen from this naming is it just supports the prison-industrial complex. It normalizes it."
When Saunders couldn't loose the 40 students who posted up in her office this week, she agreed to the Friday meetup, scheduled for the recruitment room at the stadium. But student organizers wanted an outside moderator to control the discussion. Instead, an FAU political science prof is going to run the show. Also, they want the event open to the public and also want to put Saunders on the clock for her answers -- lest the executive gobble up the whole hour answering a few questions.
Those details are still being hashed out, but the school doesn't seem willing to work too hard on the group's requests. "We've been talking back and forth with them," Guevara says.