A junior at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, says he was unfairly suspended from an Intercultural Communications class for refusing to participate in a class exercise in which the professor told each student to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper, put it on the floor and step on it.
The student, a deeply religious Mormon, said he was insulted by the assignment and picked the paper up and placed it on the table. “Anytime you step on something it shows that you believe that something has no value. So if you were to step on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value,” the student told CBS News. His religious beliefs would not allow him to participate in the exercise. He also said he was not disrespectful to the professor in any way but told her he was offended by the exercise and refused to participate.
The student said he voiced his concerns to the professor’s supervisor and later learned he had been suspended from the class. Sounds to me like that may not be a bad thing.
FAU said that the professor “was conducting a classroom exercise from a textbook entitled “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition” and released this statement to CBS: ”Faculty and students at academic institutions pursue knowledge and engage in open discourse. While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.”
While that statement is true, isn’t the student’s refusal not to step on Jesus a part of that open discourse and debate? It seems to me the professor should have used his refusal to participate to begin the dialogue rather than suspend him from the class.
The school has not said whether or not the professor will face any disciplinary action but I don’t think there should be. Her idea for a class exercise is her own, whether or not other people agree with her. (I can’t imagine the textbook spells out that specific exercise. I guess I could be wrong.) But with a controversial topic such as this she should absolutely allow those who disagree to not only decline participation but to voice their opposition freely. Isn’t that what discussion is all about? If not then it’s not discussion – it’s dictating.
What needs to happen now is the student should be readmitted to the class (if he wants to be), and the professor needs to apologize to him. If she’s truly trying to open dialogue she needs to allow disagreement and even dissent. If she doesn’t she’s not following a teaching curriculum – she’s following her own agenda.