UPDATE: The deal with the GEO Group has been withdrawn since publication, according to an FAU press release . See below for full press release.
The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition — a group of students protesting the for-profit prison company GEO Group’s $6 million donation for the naming rights to FAU football stadium — held a protest on April Fools’ Day, pretending that the deal with GEO Group was cancelled.
“Hey-hey, hoot-hoot, FAU gave GEO the boot,” Stop Owlcatraz protesters chanted as they marched from the GEO Group Stadium to the Administration Building.
“We wanted to, first of all, get a reaction of victory,” said Britni Hiatt, senior women’s studies major and founding member of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition. “So people get a taste of what it would feel like if [the stadium deal] actually was called off.”
About 40 members of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition gathered on the lawn near the stadium at 11:30 a.m. Officers from the FAU Police Department surrounded the area and trailed behind the students as they marched from the Free Speech Lawn to the Administration Building with signs reading, “Thank you, FAU,” and “Mary Jane, you have a conscience after all.”
“Ultimately, we want to get a reaction by pretending that they took back the GEO deal,” Gabi Aleksinko, senior intercultural relations major, said. “Hopefully we get people asking themselves why we aren’t doing anything about this.”
Today is the due date for the first of 12 payments from the GEO Group over 12 years, according to the gift agreement renaming the stadium. The UP contacted Director of Media Relations Lisa Metcalf about the status of the first payment, but Metcalf has not responded as of publication time. Section III, letter F of the agreement states FAU may pull out of the deal after a 30 day written notice if GEO fails to make payments.
“FAU has a heart,” Arely Baugh, senior psychology and women’s studies major and member of Stop Owlcatraz, shouted to the group of students before planning to sit outside President Mary Jane Saunders’ office in protest. The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition staged a sit-in protest outside of Saunders’ office once before on Feb. 26 following the stadium renaming on Feb. 18.
Seven FAU Police officers and Associate Dean of Students Terry Mena blocked the doors of the Administration Building as the protesters marched up the entrance steps around 12:30 p.m.
According to Rory Padgett, a senior film major and Stop Owlcatraz member, the coalition expected a police presence after an incident on the Jupiter campus, where Britni Hiatt was allegedly clipped by Saunders’ car in a parking lot protest.
Two protesters tried negotiating with FAU police Lt. Larry Ervin, one of the officers blocking the doors of the building, to meet with Saunders. Officers would not allow students to enter the building as protesters, so they requested a meeting with Saunders as students.
“Your initial reason for entering this building was a protest,” Ervin said. “All of a sudden you’re trying to change your idea today.”
The students were denied access into the building. According to Director of the Student Union Larry Faerman and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Charles Brown, the doors of the Administration Building were locked and only students with appointments would be allowed to enter. Brown and Faerman could not confirm how long the doors would remain locked.
The UP requested a statement from Saunders, but has not received a response as of publication time.
According to Student Body Vice President April Turner, who watched the protest from a distance, nothing came out of the prank protest.
“I feel like there are other ways to go about this,” Turner said. “They’ve already tried a sit-in.”
Turner recently signed a letter in support of the GEO Group donation and stadium renaming and distributed the letter to members of Boca House of Representatives at a meeting on Friday, March 29. Student Body President Robert Huffman, Boca Raton House Speaker Jaclyn Broudy, and Boca Raton Treasurer Rickey Lejuez also signed the letter.
By 2:30 p.m., eight of the coalition members still outside the Administration Building decided to stop trying to enter the building today, according to Arely Baugh.
The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition will, however, continue trying to meet with Saunders to convince her to undo the deal with the GEO Group, according to Baugh.
“Last time we went in to talk,” Baugh said. “Now, we want action.”
Here is the statement released earlier today stating that the deal with the GEO Group has been withdrawn:
“GEO Group Foundation Withdraws $6 Million Gift to FAU Foundation
BOCA RATON, Fla. (April 1, 2013) – The GEO Group Foundation has informed the FAU Foundation today that in the best long-term interest of the University, the $6 million gift from GEO Group Foundation has been withdrawn and the stadium no longer will be named GEO Group Stadium.
“What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO’s goodwill to financially assist the University’s athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations,” said GEO Group Chairman and CEO George Zoley. “We employ many FAU graduates and Boca Raton community members. We take pride in running a well-respected company and are proud of our long-term support of the University.”
The $6 million gift was meant to help advance FAU’s athletic department. The gift was a 12- year commitment with annual payments of $500,000.
“FAU alumnus and Trustee Emeritus George Zoley and his colleagues have been loyal supporters of this University,” said FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. “We are thankful for all of the companies, organizations and individuals who give to this university to support our mission, our pursuit of academic excellence and valuable contributions to this community.”
- FAU - “