‘I am just angry’: UH reacts after Rohini sanctions

The announcement was made after #RemoveRohini went viral

Students at the University of Houston are reacting with outrage at the sanctions announced by Student Government Association President, Shane Smith, against Rohini Sethi.

They include: a 50 day suspension (which implies 50 days of lost pay in the form of a monthly stipend), attending a diversity workshop held by the Libra Project, attending 3 cultural events per month, write a reflection on the situation, and make a presentation about diversity to the Student Government Association during an upcoming meeting.

The sanctions were imposed on Vice President Rohini Sethi after a Facebook status went viral in which she denounced the Black Lives Matter movement following the murders of five police officers about 4 hours north of us in Dallas, Texas.

Photo credit: UH Student Govt. Association’s FB page

While those offended by her statements feel that the sanctions are more than enough, others find these punishments to deeply infringe on Sethi’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

We asked a group of current UH students to share their opinions on Sethi’s sanctions.

Andrew Bahlmann, 29, Management Information Systems (MIS)

Former Chief of Staff of the 53rd (Current) Administration 

“Freedom of speech is a protected right and should not be trampled on, however I believe it’s up to organizations to determine to what extent posts made by their members either positively or adversely represent the organization and its key values.

While working for a municipality you quickly recognize that your words are those of your own and that you’re accountable for what you say; you are a representative of the organization and that responsibility exists 24/7. I believe this statement is applicable in all environments from the corporate world to organizations at public institutions.

Personally, I believe this whole situation could’ve been resolved in a more mature and professional manner if the SGA and its members had acted immediately and directly.

1) The Vice President should’ve sanctioned herself

2) The Senate should have issued a resolution stating SGA’s position

3) All members of SGA should’ve immediately stopped posting opinions on social media sources and should not have responded to news outlets or reporters

4) A team of non-partisan SGA members should’ve come together to evaluate expected repercussions as well as develop a plan of action for SGA to follow

Instead the President made a public statement and talked to reporters, the Vice President made a public statement and talked to reporters, the administrator(s) of the SGA Facebook page posted a public statement, several executives cabinet members and Senators made social media posts. Collectively everyone in the organization stopped speaking for the organization and started speaking for themselves and their opinions.

I believe they’re all responsible for the lack of control, professionalism, and respect this event incurred. SGA needed to unite in a manner befitting a student fee funded organization with a $150,000+ budget, representing 42,000+ students, and having such a large national footprint as the University of Houston and its administration.”

Patrick Krueger, 19, Mechanical Engineering

“So, I’m a huge believer in the personal freedom to express opinions in a public forum without being censored. It’s the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. I know the First Amendment protects you from the government, but since UH is government-funded, they need to be held to the same standard.

“If someone has to worry about this sort of reaction every time they talk about a polarizing issue, it practically forces them to be silent in fear of their job, safety, and reputation. I also think when you compound this with a massively leftist political climate at universities, and you get attacked in this fashion… free speech is essentially dead. “All lives matter” is what most classic liberals, moderates, libertarians, and conservatives believe in (i.e. the majority of the political spectrum) .”

Bria Cato, 20, Psychology

“Personally, I feel as though Rohini’s sanctions are more than fair. This polar issue has placed a wedge into our student body and is casting a very unwanted dark cloud over the University of Houston. These “sanctions” should be viewed as the educational steps, moving forward, that Ms. Sethi requested following the backlash of the post. She’s stated on numerous occasions that she “doesn’t do this job for the money”, so a suspension from said position that barely stretches into the month of September isn’t harsh at all. Attending a diversity workshop which discusses, amongst other things, the very topic that has gotten her to this controversial point only stands to benefit her, in the end. And since when has attending cultural events been deemed a punishment?

“Again, this is all meant to educate. The reflection letter and the presentation are both things that she probably would’ve had to do anyway, so I believe that most people have a problem regarding the other things. Having attended both the senate meeting as well as the town hall, I’ve heard Sethi voice, continuously, how she values her job, her school, and those around her. If she truly did value those things, then I believe that she should care enough to do what is best for them and acknowledge that people were hurt by her statement.”

Sunny Patil, 18, Honors Biomedical Sciences

“I am just angry that Rohini Sethi got suspended from her post. Her personal Facebook account should be an area where she can express her beliefs. Suspending someone for feeling frustrated with a movement is straight up anti-free speech and allows for political correctness to grow. I’m not a fan of the whole movement of Black Lives Matter due to their tactics and other notable civil rights leaders agree.

“I still believe that black lives matter and hate cases of racial injustice. Rohini Sethi may have been expressing the same frustrations. These kinds of actions are perpetuating safe spaces and other related things that are unhealthy for college campuses. She said that she was open to dialogue and that is what everyone should be like. Campuses should be a bastion for free speech.”

Steven Hiller, 20, Public Relations/Communications

“I was not in the SGA senate chamber when they made the decision, and I am not standing in the shoes of our SGA President so I might not have the perspective necessary to understand their decision. I do understand, though, that at the time Rohini made her post, emotions were very high in our country.

“I wish before people started crying out for impeachment and punishment, that people would have used this as an opportunity for dialogue and open discussion explaining why her statement could have been hurtful, and using this as an educational opportunity and not a judgement. Not everyone has the same views and it concerns me that someone is being punished because of those views, no matter what they were. If someone in office was sanctioned every time they said something people disagreed with, we wouldn’t have an operating government.

“I do understand though, that she represents the student body and what she said was not representative of the popular opinion of the student body. I can also see how her words can spark hurt in the heart of our students who she represents. I hope that this results in people listening with their hearts to those who are feeling very real pain throughout this national crisis, from all sides, and not just try to be defensive about their own views. I also hope this encourages people to become more involved in our student government elections so that we can have the best possible representation of our student body elected into office.”

Nnenna Umelloh, 20, Marketing, Liberal Studies

“I look forward to the opportunities of growth that can come from this. Last week I had a chance to talk to Rohini in person. I read her original posts and was disturbed, to say the least, at her ignorance. However, what bothered me more than that was her apparent willful ignorance. Willful ignorance is dangerous and has no business representing UH. Ignorance, on the other hand, can be remedied.

“Based on my conversation with her, she had a violent case of ignorance that can be successfully treated with knowledge and understanding. She is currently going through treatment. I know this by taking the time to talk to her. I understand the people’s desire for consequences. You have the freedom of speech, but not the freedom to choose the consequences of that speech. On the other hand, we should see Rohini as an asset. She is an excellent example of how knowledge cures ignorance and can change a person.

“She can really champion the cause of #Blacklivesmatter because still, even after all this people STILL think that #BLM means “only” black lives matter. Consequences are expected, but there’s also an expectation of growth and reflection from all that has happened. I hope after this storm calms we become stronger. I still look forward to the growth that will come this.”

Clearly there are mixed opinions among the student body, broken into pro- and anti-sanction. While Sethi has stated that she does not agree with the sanctions, Smith was given the power by the Internal Affairs committee of senators to make this unilateral decision against his partner and running mate in elections.

The next Student Government Association event will be a Senate Meeting on August 3rd, which will include an opportunity for students to address the Senate.

The Executive Branch, including Shane and Sethi, will also be in attendance.

University of Houston