Boca Raton, Florida — A university in Southern Florida that came under fire this week after a student claimed that he was suspended for refusing to stomp on a piece of paper bearing the word “Jesus” has issued an apology.
Ryan Rotela, a Mormon, told reporters that he was punished by school officials for not participating in the assignment in his intercultural communications class. The activity was part of a suggested exercise found in the instructor’s manual accompanying the classroom textbook.
“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” the manual states. “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,” it continues. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
However, Rotela said that he was suspended for refusing to stomp on the paper, after his teacher, Deandre Poole, had his class perform the exercise.
“He had us all stand up and he said ‘Stomp on it,’” Rotela explained. “I picked up the paper from the floor and put it right back on the table. I’m not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated.”
“Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value,” he said. “So, if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value.”
Rotela’s teacher is the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach Democratic Party.
Initially, after many became outraged both over the classroom assignment and Rotela’s suspension, school officials defended the teacher because he was simply following the instructor’s manual. However, on Friday, the university released an apology over the matter.
“We sincerely apologize for any offense this has caused,” officials representing Florida Atlantic University wrote. “Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”
However, the school denied that students were required to stomp on the paper.
“Contrary to some media reports, no students were forced to take part in the exercise,” it stated. “[T]he instructor told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate.”
It also asserted that Rotela was not punishing for his refusal to stomp on the name of Jesus.
“While we do not comment on personnel matters, and while student privacy laws prevent us from commenting on any specific student at the University, we can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the University as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the statement read.
Nonetheless, Florida Atlantic University states that the stomping exercise will never again be performed in the classroom.