Today former U.S. Rep. Allen West posted threatening-sounding messages on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, suggesting that Florida Atlantic University students had harassed his wife, Angela Graham-West, a trustee at the school.
This afternoon via phone, Graham-West explained what prompted his message.
"This all started out as an internal thing," she said. Several weeks ago -- before the deal for FAU to accept $6 million from private prison operator GEO Group in exchange for stadium naming rights was cancelled -- two male students "with some group called 'Owlcatraz' entered my office talking about all kinds of crazy stuff, like how I should resign from the board."
Graham-West, who was formerly a business professor at Kansas State University, said they told her secretary "a story" to get past the front desk and entered her office uninvited and without an appointment.
"This was about the GEO deal. I tried to explain that every corporation
has a history, you know." She said she talked about how "Nike,
Volkswagen, all have histories. They started getting riled up." She
described the two men as "zealots."
She said they asked, "You think you're as tough as your husband, don't you?" and "All you want to do is bring back Jim Crow!" (to which she responded, "How can we? We're black!")
Graham-West says she felt threatened. "All logical arguments come off the table when you start to intimidate people. I'll discuss A through Z, but I'm not willing to listen to strangers tell me what they want me to do. There is no way that you can violate a person's space and then have a logical discussion... There are civilized ways of going about meeting with people."
After about 45 minutes or an hour, she said, her partner came in and saw it was not going well and interrupted. She said the men were asked to leave by her company's internal security.
She says that she did not get either young man's name and that when they left, one "took the door and slammed it so hard it almost broke the plate glass."
She thought the confrontation was over, but then yesterday, she says, at a Board of Trustees meeting that was open to the public, she saw in the crowd one of the students from that meeting. "That's called stalking," she says. She says she alerted campus security but did not file an incident report. "Police were there and tried to escort them out."
Then last night and today, she says, her boss and co-workers received emails presumably from the same two men. "It's becoming a three-ring circus," she said.
She declined to provide a copy of the email but said it suggested she should be fired and let go from the Board of Trustees. She said the students alleged they had been invited in to her office and accused her of becoming aggressive and saying that people who owned Volkswagens were Nazis. She said it had an ominous tone, saying, "You can't threaten us, Angela." She did not know why she and no other trustee was targeted for protest.
Given the bombings in Boston and recent campus shootings, Graham-West says she was unnerved. "They could have done anything. They could have shot me. I just come with a pencil, a pen, and a briefcase."
Graham-West seemed frustrated that "a small group of students got their way. Whatever the repercussions for other students -- higher tuition, less gifts given out -- this was decided and run up the pole. The squeaky wheel did get the grease."
But what if the protesting students saw their efforts as nonviolenet protest, and standing up for what they believe in, a la Gandhi or Martin Luther King?
Graham-West said, "But none of us knew -- I didn't know -- who these people are. I'm busy trying to do the right thing, volunteering. To be accosted... $6 million gifts don't grow on trees." She said it was not peaceful protesting "if you push your way in."
She said she would not discuss the underlying issues with anyone "if you don't conduct yourself in a rightful manner. What is it called when you make someone feel afraid for their life? It's called assault. Attempting to assault somebody through intimidation. After that happened, [discussions] were off the table. Stalking, intimidation, all that -- it takes logical arguments off the table."
So when her husband spoke out for her on Facebook and Twitter, she says, "He was just saying, 'If you've got something to say, say it to me. We'll have a man-to-man talk.'"
Graham-West did not want to discuss GEO Group's business practices nor the recent incident with professor Deandre Poole.
Asked how the university might move on from the recent string of bad publicity, she said, "I don't know... I'm bereft of ideas. I've come to the university to educate. That's my passion. All of this is distracting from the main beauty of acquiring knowledge."
Which is something the letter-writers could use a bit more of, she said: "They should be spending more time on learning how to structure sentences, not ruining my career."
UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. -- Students involved in the Stop Owlcatraz movement released this statement:
The FAU administration should issue Allen West a restraining order barring him from all FAU campuses, and should release a statement affirming their commitment to students' and the greater FAU community's rights to public safety and free speech.
Allen West alleges students are "harassing" his wife, Angela West. Members of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition, in February and March, met privately with most of the members of the FAU Board of Trustees, including Angela West. As public officials and the trustees of our university, they have a duty to be accessible and accountable to the constituencies they serve.
She agreed to a March 18 meeting at her Raymond James office in Fort Lauderdale. At that meeting, Angela became rude and aggressive and students walked out of the meeting as she began yelling at them.
Students attended yesterday's Board of Trustees meeting to hear the President and all the Trustees, not just West. There, she harassed FAU students and instructed two FAU police officers to question them about the meeting (they refused to do so). Allen and Angela West are harassing and threatening FAU students, not the other way around.