Rohini Sethi is the student body Vice President at the University of Houston. After the assassination of five Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter inspired rally, she wrote on Facebook: “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter.”
Sethi quickly deleted the comment, but it nonetheless generated outrage. In response, Sethi issued a statement in which she called her comment “inappropriate.” She said it was an emotional response to the tragic killings in Dallas. She ended with the message: “#LetsTalkUnity.” You can read her full statement here. There’s no reason to think it is insincere.
Sethi’s statement wasn’t enough to avoid punishment. Student body president Shane Smith suspended her for 50 days and ordered her to take a diversity seminar as condition of being reinstated.
In addition, Smith ordered Sethi to:
Attend three “UH cultural events” each month from September through March, excluding December.
Write a “letter of reflection” about how her harmful actions have impacted SGA and the UH student body.
Put on a public presentation Sept. 28 detailing “the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society.”
In effect, Smith has, in the Stalinist tradition, ordered Sethi to submit to “reeducation” and public self-criticism. All for expressing a political opinion he and some others disagree with.
In an understatement, Smith declared that First Amendment considerations didn’t enter into his decision. He explained:
The first amendment prevents a person from being jailed by the government for what they say. But [it] does not prevent people from receiving other consequences for what they say.
Actually, the First Amendment does much more than prevent people from being jailed. Smith doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
More importantly, he has begged the question of what “consequences” people ought to receive for what they say. Surely Smith, student Stalinist though he is, would agree that Sethi should not be shot for making her statement; that would be an unacceptable “other consequence.”
So is forced indoctrination/public self criticism. It is unacceptable in a free society to condition holding a student government position on adherence (in this case slavish adherence that doesn’t permit a moment’s deviation even in exceptional circumstances) to a particular political position or slogan. And it is even more objectionable to condition student office on political reeducation and public humiliation.
Smith defended his decision this way:
I have not felt that [Sethi] has understood or respected how her actions have affected the people around her, as well as the reputation of SGA and the university.
A commissar in Prague circa 1950 wouldn’t have said it much differently.
Sethi has expressed her disagreement with her surreal punishment in posts on Facebook, but says she will abide by Smith’s decision. That’s understandable. She feels bad about her original statement and would like to stay on as student body vice president.
However, I hope she will reconsider sometime between now and, say, late September when she must deliver in public a presentation detailing “the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society.”
Surely, serving as vice president under Commissar Smith isn’t worth the price. And it’s important that someone stand up to the Stalinists and fledgling fascists who increasingly call the shots on college campuses.
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