UH to Sanction Student Body VP Over Anti-Black Lives Matter Post [UPDATED]

Rohini Sethi may not have realized the implications of publicly criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement as a student leader at a predominantly nonwhite university earlier this month.

But her classmates are ready to punish her either way.

The University of Houston student government Senate has passed a resolution calling for the suspension of Sethi, the student government vice president, after her criticism of Black Lives Matter sparked a controversy on campus.

In a 14-2 vote, senators empowered student body President Shane Smith to sanction Sethi as he sees fit.

"I think my responsibility is to do what the students ask and what the Senate believes is best while taking into consideration all the factors going into this," Smith said.

Hours after a gunman killed five Dallas police officers on July 7, Sethi posted on Facebook: "Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter."

The post spurred groups on campus to call for her resignation, including the Black Student Union and Alpha Phi Alpha, a predominantly black fraternity. In a statement posted on Twitter, the Black Student Union said Sethi's post was dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement, a social movement seeking equal protection under the law for people of color, especially at the hands of the police.

Sethi has not stepped down. She did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Smith said he is deciding the appropriate sanction for Sethi, and said senators sought a punishment "between a slap on the wrist and a full-blown impeachment."

He said some senators had recommended suspending Rohini from all SGA duties for 45 days, without pay, and requiring her to attend sensitivity training. Sethi receives a roughly $700-per-month stipend, Smith said.

Smith cautioned that Sethi was speaking for herself, and not the SGA, when she wrote the post — but that nonetheless, it reflected on her SGA colleagues. Smith said he will announce his decision Friday.

According to a 2015 fact sheet published by UH, the largest racial backgrounds within the student body are Hispanic (29 percent), white (26 percent), Asian (20 percent) and African-American (12 percent). 
Smith, an economics major, said the SGA held a successful town hall meeting on race relations earlier this week, but said he looks forward to listening more to to student concerns.

"I think there has been progress. It's unfortunate that it took a negative situation like this to get people ready to talk, ready to engage on bigger community-wide issues," Smith said. "We're making it a goal to work on those."

Update August 1, 4:52 p.m.: Student body president Smith decided to sanction Sethi late Friday, he said in a statement. Her punishment includes: A 50-day suspension from all SGA events; mandatory attendance at three UH "cultural events" per month, September through March, such as events held by the Black Student Caucus; a mandatory letter of reflection about her actions and a public presentation to the SGA "detailing the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society."

In response to Sethi's suspension, the UH administration released a statement distancing itself from student leaders. It concludes:

"Actions by SGA, a registered student organization subject to its own governance, are not University actions and do not affect the academic standing of a student at the University of Houston.  The University of Houston continues to stand firm in support of free speech and does not discipline students for exercising their Constitutional rights."

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Zach Despart is the managing editor of the Houston Press and oversees the news and music verticals.
Contact: Zach Despart