Three FAU students could face conduct charges from administration for protesting a public event.
The students were members of the FAU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. They joined nine other members on April 19, when they protested a speech given by Col. Bentzi Gruber of the Israeli Defense Forces. Gruber spoke in the Student Housing Services building on the Boca campus, to an audience of roughly 35 mostly middle-aged students, according to the protesters.
It started when SJP president and senior political science major Noor Fawzy stood after Gruber’s opening remarks. Holding a banner with “War Criminals” scrawled across it, the other 11 students walked to the front of the room. Then Fawzy started reading facts about Operation Cast Lead, a three week armed conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants, that Gruber participated in.
Once the protesters were told to leave by FAU police officers present, they complied, according to the police report. To read the full police report, check here.
“The group went outside the building and continued their protest until the event concluded…” reporting officer Curtis Stewart wrote.
This is not the first time that Gruber has been protested. Students at the University of Denver protested one of Gruber’s speeches in 2010, among other protests, according to the Clarion, the school’s student newspaper. Gruber’s speech at FAU was part of an Owls for Israel event. As of publication time, Owls for Israel had not responded to interview requests.
“We all left. We were very compliant in that regard,” said Fawzy. “We went outside, we protested a little, but it was a very quiet protest.”
The video of the protest was recorded by an SJP member who wished to remain anonymous, for “fear of being subject to administrative punishment and intimidation,” according to Fawzy.
Then, on April 25, three members of SJP (Fawzy, Rebecca Sosa, and Renata Glebocki) received emails around 4:30 p.m. from Joanna Ellwood, the assistant dean of Student Conduct. To read one of Ellwood’s letters, check here.
Ellwood’s email told the students that the administration had received a complaint, alleging that the three had been involved in “disruptive behavior” at the April 19 speech. After citing Regulation 4.007 of the Student Code of Conduct as the basis of the complaint, Ellwood made clear that none of the three have been charged with violating the Student Code of Conduct.
“I just found it to be pure nonsense, ain’t nobody got time for this!” said Fawzy. “This is finals week, I’m graduating in less than a week, I should be focusing on that, I should be focusing on that. They’re making it a bigger deal than it actually is.”
Fawzy is, however, concerned she might be prevented from walking across the stage, or receiving her degree.
“I’ve excelled in my studies here, I made my mark here, and I don’t want all of that to crumble over this; over some 30 second speech that I made to disrupt a war criminal,” said Fawzy.
The UP reached out to Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown and Dean of Students Corey King for comment, yet both declined to discuss the conduct hearings, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that protects the privacy of student education records, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“I was absolutely shocked, all I did was that I stood up in complete silence; I protested in a non-violent manner…” said Sosa, a junior political science and sociology major, who also received the notice. “It could eventually prevent me from participating in extracurricular activities, and that does worry me.”
Sosa has been involved in Student Government for three years, as a member of the Boca House of Representatives.
“That’s just one of my concerns, preventing me from participating in things that I love to do,” said Sosa.
“I feel this is just a huge inconvenience, because now I have to worry about it, and I have to show up to a meeting,” said Glebocki, a sophomore political science major. “I have three finals on that day.”
Ellwood did not refer to the meetings as hearings, according to an email sent to the UP. Instead, the phrase “investigation conference meetings,” was used. Both Ellwood and Audra Lazarus, the school’s associate general counsel, were representing the university at the meetings.
The students themselves had their own lawyer present at the meetings. The UP reporter on-scene attempted to enter the meetings to document them, but was told that the student attending the meeting was only allowed to bring in one person into the meeting with them. No regulation was cited to support this decision.
After their meetings, Sosa and Glebocki were less than pleased with the outcome.
“I feel that the Assistant Dean of Students, as well as the lawyer that was present at the meeting were trying to intimidate me,” said Sosa. “They constantly kept asking me what student had gone to the event with me, then when I responded with “It was an FAU event, and it was for FAU students” they would respond with “Oh, so you’re refusing to give us names?” They kept constantly repeating that.”
“I thought it was ridiculous,” said Glebocki. “[Ellwood] kept bringing up all these things that I had no control over…she kept wanting to know about other people involved, as if I had any control over other people’s actions.”
Fawzy seemed cautiously optimistic about the meeting after it ended.
“I felt more confident, more optimistic about the future; I know I didn’t do anything wrong, and I just hope that none of us end up getting in trouble,” said Fawzy. “I hope it doesn’t affect my future prospects of getting a job, I want to be able to get my diploma on time, and just start a new life outside of FAU.”