Student gov president faces calls for removal after asking people to respect others' opinions

A Texas student government president faced backlash after asking people to respect the free expression of opinions.

Mohamed AbdelGilil, SGA President at the University of Houston, Clear-Lake, was asked to apologize after posting on his personal Facebook account, “If someone is expressing their opinion about a controversial topic...respect their opinion, please....Respect my thoughts and opinions and others' too....I will never give up my morals, religion, etc. because it offends people. Like adult people!”

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After AbdelGilil made those remarks online, an online petition calling for his removal surfaced.

“Mohamed AbdelGilil is unfit for the position of President of the Student Government Association, as he created and continues to create a hostile environment for a large portion of the student body at the University of Houston-Clear Lake," it reads. 

The petition also says that AbdelGilil “spread homophobic sentiments," seemingly for asking others to respect others' opinions on LGBT topics or framing those topics as "controversial."

While AbdelGilil's critics referenced at least three of his social media posts, Campus Reform could only view one of them. AbdelGilil declined to comment for this story and the creator of the online petition did not respond in time for publication when asked about the content of the student government president's other posts. 

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AbdelGilil later issued an apology over Facebook and again during an SGA meeting open forum, according to The Signal, UHCL’s student newspaper.

“I know what it feels to be discriminated against. It’s not a good feeling, yet I did just that. I shared a couple of posts that were not well-received at all,” he wrote. “I didn’t know that what I said deeply affected people.”

AbdelGilil received mixed reactions to his statement.

One Facebook user commented that “as a student who is part of the LGBTQ+ community on campus and who has felt alienated and hurt by you, I would like to know how you specifically plan to reconnect with that large part of the student body.”

Another user told AbdelGilil to “make sure to keep hateful, negative comments to yourself.”

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“What he says privately is private. Because that’s his belief. Again, his own opinion,” one user said, in defense of AbdelGilil. “I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community as well. I don’t expect people to tiptoe around my feelings.”

“Student governments can hold their political leaders accountable through political means, whether through elections or internal measures, even if the speech is otherwise protected,” Adam Steinbaugh, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Campus Reform

“The speech here, however, does not rise to the level of unprotected harassment, and there's no allegation that the student engaged in discrimination himself, so the university could not lawfully remove him from his position or take punitive action against him without violating the First Amendment," Steinbaugh added. 

Speech First President Nicole Neily also weighed in, telling Campus Reform, “of course the student government has a right to free speech -- he's a student at a public university! Sadly, however, the window of ‘acceptable’ discourse on campus is so narrow that even expressing a common-sense statement like ‘respect the opinions of others’ is now considered ‘hostile’!" 

"This public naming-and-shaming via 'call-out culture' is a major factor in why students self-censor on campus; indeed, countless polls have shown this is a significant (and growing) problem. It's intended to send a chilling message to others who might hold similar viewpoints -- speak out and you, too, might be the victim of the online mob," Neilly added. 

Campus Reform reached out to UHCL for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ethanycai