Opinion: FAU should stop forcing student organizations to attend their ‘leadership’ conferences

From political bias to the endorsement of false facts, FAU’s Lead and Serve conferences are not about leadership, nor do they promote diversity.


FAU holds the WeLead conference in the Spring semester. Illustration by Joey Sena

Ross Mellman, Managing Editor

As a leader of a bipartisan student organization called Right on Campus, which creates political opinion magazines, I was required to attend WeLead: Diversity Matters Student

Leadership Symposium in Spring 2018.


WeLead is a seminar on diversity and was something I was actually looking forward to attending.


We are lucky to study at Florida’s most diverse public university. With over 30,000 students and hundreds of faculty members, we have the opportunity to learn from people of differing races, cultures, ethnicities and beliefs.


Yet, during my attendance at WeLead, an event that is advertised to promote diversity, I was shocked to find out that the focus of the conference was taught entirely from one political perspective, from the keynote speaker right down to the smaller “breakout” sessions.


My first experience at WeLead opened my eyes to how politically biased their conferences are


It did not take long for me to realize that WeLead wasn’t focused on diversity or inclusion at all.


The first event of the conference was a keynote speech from Rosa Clemente, a self-described activist and former Green Party vice presidential candidate.


Shortly after her speech began, she went on an anti-Trump rant that berated white women who voted for Trump and called Republicans racists. Clemente taught us that if you do not agree with her political beliefs, you must be a racist or bigoted person.


While I was well aware of how divisive the political atmosphere from the 2016 election had been, I was hoping that if her speech were to be political it would be one about putting aside our differences and coming together as fellow Americans.


My hopes could not have been more contrary to the speech that she gave.


Perhaps FAU wasn’t expecting Clemente to give such a bigoted speech, but even a quick review of her social media gives away her hateful nature.


One month before her speech at FAU, Clemente posted a picture on Instagram featuring a coffee cup with “WHITE TEARS” written on it in bold lettering. The caption says “…you crazy white supremacist pedophile loving Trump supporters can sit down, shut the fuck up and put your tears in this cup.”


And two months before that post, she had uploaded a picture on Instagram of a poster that reads “Fuck the US Military.” More recently her retweets have even included disgusting rhetoric that I feel is anti-Semitic, such as “Fuck Zionism,” which is a movement supporting the independence of Israel.


This means our school either did not bother to do any research about who they were inviting to speak, or knew whole-heartedly just how hateful she is and thought she would be great for a speech about promoting diversity.


“The committee does not control the content of any particular speech, and does not select speakers on the basis of political ideology,” Joshua Glanzer, the FAU Media Relations representative said about the speaker selection process.


Yet it seems evident that the university is well aware of Clemente’s political ideology since the current WeLead 2019 website describes her as “one of the most raw, honest, political, social and cultural voices in the country.”


I suppose I was unaware that Clemente’s unrelenting bigotry qualifies her to be “a cultural voice in our country,” as FAU so claims. I reached out to Rosa Clemente for comment, but she did not respond as of publication time.


I’m not the only one who is disappointed


It should be noted that conservative students weren’t the only ones who took issue with the content of Clemente’s speech.


“Clemente was speaking about a lot of issues with left-leaning viewpoints, and although I agreed with her on parts, it has no place at a forced diversity conference held by the school,” Hannah Schimko, a sophomore marketing major and the social media director for FAU Young Democratic Socialists of America, said.


“The event should be nonpartisan” she added. “It’s an event about diversity, not politics left or right.”


A student who ran one of the “breakout” sessions at WeLead after Clemente’s speech, who chose to remain anonymous, called her keynote speech a “disgrace.”


“FAU sanctioned a bigot to speak at an event that the school hosted and forced students to attend. By extension, the university was foisting hateful rhetoric on us,” he said. “It was mildly surprising to see how many people, including staff, agreed with her. It was sad, disturbing, and utterly disappointing to see so much hate accepted in public.”


The smaller sessions ran by FAU faculty and students were just as one-sided


During iLead, a different conference that is advertised to focus on leadership in Fall of 2018, I attended a breakout session titled “Healthy Leaders.” I soon found out that the true intention of this session was to promote political correctness — as opposed to actually encouraging awareness about how to live a healthy lifestyle.


Shortly into the presentation, which was conducted by FAU faculty who were not physicians, we were told irresponsibly that one’s body mass index (BMI) has no reflection on whether or not they’re healthy.


We were additionally told that you can be healthy at any size.


These were irresponsible statements that are undeniably opposed to commonly accepted facts within the medical community.


The American Heart Association’s website asserts that “for every additional unit of BMI, there was a slight increase in blood pressure readings and in the thickness and size of one of the heart’s main pumping chambers,” which leads to heart problems.


The idea that BMI has no reflection on one’s health was taught to us in our session about preventing “fat shaming” — which we were lectured on for almost an hour.


I reached out to Jill Rubin, a coordinator from the Women and Gender Equity Resource Center who was one of two presenters during the Healthy Leaders seminar, but she did not respond in time for publication.


During a breakout session at WeLead, the presenters encouraged us to introduce ourselves. They told us we should begin our introduction by stating “what gender we identify as.”


This appeared as yet another instance of forcing students to abide by politically correct terminology that aligns with left-leaning viewpoints.


I reached out to Lead and Serve, who are involved in organizing both iLead and WeLead, but they did not respond in time for publication.


The university should be using the event’s focus on diversity to challenge multiple viewpoints not just one

FAU anticipated “the possibility … that attendees may be exposed to views that are controversial or contrary to their own deeply held beliefs,” Glanzer said. “As an institution of higher learning, we always encourage students to challenge those ideas, while treating members of the university community and our guests with respect and civility.”


But is a speaker who berates students and calls them bigots for supporting a candidate that they disagree with truly teaching us to treat others with “respect and civility”— and is a political tirade really the right way to challenge students deeply held beliefs?


If FAU wants to challenge conservative students’ beliefs — which they have every right to — then they also have an equal responsibility to challenge liberal students’ beliefs.


I reached out to the Center for IDEAs, formerly known as the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, who was involved in selecting Clemente, but they did not respond in time for publication.


If FAU wants to keep their conferences politically biased, then our attendance should not be mandatory


As a defender of free speech for all people, I have absolutely no problem with having Clemente speak on our campus.


If FAU wants to host a conference that is politically biased — one that promotes groupthink rather than true diversity of thought — I am completely ok with that.


But if they are going to do this, the mandatory attendance of all student organizations should not be required. Better yet, they could make their next WeLead conference, on January 26th, actually embrace diversity by having speakers who teach from different political perspectives.


The diversity of our students extends farther than just our differences in skin color. FAU’s political thought is also diverse, as indicated by the plethora of different political student organizations that we have on campus.


If the opinions of our students are so diverse, then the curriculum and speakers present at iLead and WeLead should be too.


Attendance rules for student organizations

Attending both conferences requires major time commitments that have strong penalties if you do not attend.

FAU requires two members from all registered student organizations to attend an iLead conference each semester. The conferences take place on either Friday or Saturday and are roughly seven hours long. One person may not represent more than one organization. If an organization does not attend, they may not be able to utilize funding or campus space.


Here’s what happens when you don’t attend their mandatory conferences

Student organizations that were not able to attend an iLead conference were sent this message. Many organizations that fully attended were sent this message by mistake due to errors in recording their attendance.

You are receiving this email because we have found that your organization is NOT in compliance and still has requirements, per Regulation 4.006, to fulfill. Your organization may not be able to request space on campus, utilize funding or complete the Annual Budgeting process for 2019/2020 until the following items below are completed.

Your organization has NOT completed the following requirement(s):

1 Member(s) did not attend the iLead Conference and must attend WeLead January 26, 2019.

Ross Mellman is the managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @RossMellman.