A Crash Course in Symbolism

A Florida professor's efforts to teach intercultural communication has him under fire from conservatives.

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Rubio piled on her apology in a letter: "No student in our state should be punished for respectfully expressing his religious and conscientious objections about a classroom activity." Although dealing with his own difficulties with Florida's first black female lieutenant governor that week, Scott took the time to write a further admonishment and warning: "I am requesting a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university's policies to ensure that this type of 'lesson' will not occur again."  

In June the university released its own faculty-senate investigation of the "J-E-S-U-S" incident and found that the university president should not have bowed to political pressure to ban the course. The school heard testimony from supportive students and at on-campus rallies defending academic freedom. It also announced that Poole's annual contract would be renewed. (The faculty senate also released a thorough and well-told account of the incident, which can be read here.)

Poole's battle is far from over. A top-level administrator who investigated the incident was let go, Poole told The Root. For the summer he is teaching online, but he's hoping to be back in the classroom in the spring, when the university will evaluate whether it makes sense to renew his contract for a fourth year.

Several Christian activists were reignited over the decision to renew Poole's contract. They (and, likely, Scott and Rubio) will continue to pressure the university to fire Poole.

An FAU faculty member suggested that in the fall, the university might invite the author of the textbook and J-E-S-U-S exercise to come to campus to talk about his experiences and discuss people's objections to it.

This could be the silver lining for this whole mess. No college-educated person should graduate without knowing how to distinguish between letters on a page and a holy war. By continuing the dialogue, Florida can teach the public that in a civilized society, we respond to challenging ideas with reason, not force.  

Natalie Hopkinson is a contributing editor of The Root and co-founder of the nonprofit Freshwater Project in West Palm Beach, Fla., which is launching a community conversation series sponsored by the Interactivity Foundation August 21.  Deandre Poole will join to talk about his experiences. For more information, visit the website

Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter.

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