A student government leader at the University of Houston was suspended for 50 days and ordered to attend a diversity seminar after she criticized the Black Lives Matter movement online.
Shortly after the July 7 shooting in Dallas that killed five officers, Rohini Sethi went on Facebook and opined “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like AllLivesMatter.” The statement was later deleted, but only after numerous UH students denounced it as incredibly offensive or even hateful.
“Just for her to say, ‘forget Black Lives Matter,’ is a punch in the stomach,” student Nala Hughes told a local press outlet at the time.
Sethi serves as the vice president of UH’s student government association (SGA), and several UH students demanded her immediate removal.
A full removal of Sethi has significant hurdles, though. The student government constitution requires the student body president, president of the student senate and three-fourths of present student senators to approve impeachment proceedings. Sethi would then be tried by the student supreme court.
Instead of going through that arduous process, the student senate approved a measure giving SGA president Shane Smith exceptional one-time powers to punish Sethi as he saw fit. In response, Smith released a letter Friday outlining a set of five punishments for Sethi. The punishments include:
- A 50-day suspension from SGA starting August 1. This suspension will be unpaid (she currently receives a stipend of about $700 a month).
- A requirement to attend a three-day diversity workshop in mid-August.
- A requirement to attend three “UH cultural events” each month from September through March, excluding December.
- An order to write a “letter of reflection” about how her harmful actions have impacted SGA and the UH student body
- An order to put on a public presentation Sept. 28 detailing “the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society.”
If Sethi refuses or fails any of the requirements, she will be kicked out of SGA entirely.
Smith notes in his letter that the punishment was particularly harsh because, in his view, Sethi hadn’t recognized the severity of her offense in declaring that all people’s lives matter.
“Since her original post, I have not felt that she has understood or respected how her actions have affected the people around her, as well as the reputation of SGA and the university,” Smith says.
He also said that despite UH being a public university, free speech considerations did not factor into the punishment.
“The first amendment [sic] prevents a person from being jailed by the governmetn for what they say. But [it] does not prevent people from receiving other consequences for what they say.”
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