The Vice President of Student Government at the University of Houston, Rohini Sethi, is being punished.
The punishment is a 50-day suspension from student government and required attendance to a three-day diversity workshop.
The reason behind this punishment? She posted on Facebook, “All lives matter.”
The University of Houston’s Student Government chose not to follow their own constitution and instead did the following, according to Biz Pac Review:
…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.
This swift and tyrannical punishment of Sethi by the student government for saying all lives matter isn’t surprising. The University of Houston’s administrative policies and culture have created this type of behavior in their students. Certainly, the student government couldn’t have been immune.
In 2014, for example, news outlets reported on the limited free speech zones on the University of Houston’s campus:
“The average student at UH has probably seen a man standing between M.D. Anderson Library and Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall holding a sign with a list of sins saying if students do not change some of their behaviors, hell awaits them.
The area where he stands is known as Butler Plaza, one of the few Free Speech Zones on campus. These zones are the only places on campus where students can exercise their First Amendment rights.
An organization known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has taken notice and given UH a “RED” rating. This means our policy for expressing such rights is unconstitutional, with the lack of zones being the primary reason…
The UH administration is aware that the zones violate free speech and has removed them from the new policies; however, the policies haven’t gone into effect. They were officially completed in May 2013, but the administration has yet to sign them…
The current UH policy restricts protected speech in several ways with the use of the Free Speech Zones. The zones do not allow protests outside because of the rules forbidding students from using amplified sound.
Amplified sound is measured by decibels, and the Free Speech Zones limit students from exceeding 80 decibels, which can easily be surpassed by speaking above conversational tones.
The current Free Speech Zones also make it difficult for registered student organizations on campus to hold activism events…”
In fact, the University of Houston has a long history of restricting free speech from its students.
And, as of late, the most revised edition of the University o Houston’s administrative polices and procedures concerning “Freedom of Expression” state:
…The University expects that persons engaging in expressive activities demonstrate…respect for those who may disagree with their message, and compliance with University policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws. The University of Houston maintains its right to place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on expressive activities…Groups of individuals engaging in disruptive activities or failing to comply with University policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws may face immediate removal from the campus and/or other appropriate actions by University officials and University police.
University of Houston’s policy still decides the “reasonable time, place and manner” of expressing free speech, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the idea of free speech entirely.
Though Sethi’s punishment came from the student government, can they entirely to blame when the university has such a vague defense of free speech?