Saying 'all lives matter' lands student gov exec in hot water

Students at the University of Houston are calling for the removal of their own student body vice president for co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook.

Rohini Sethi, Vice President of the UH Student Government Association (SGA), recently posted a message on her Facebook that read “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter.”

Sethi’s post was made just hours after a black man shot 14 police officers at a demonstration in Dallas, Texas, killing five. Tensions ran high in Texas over the weekend, and Sethi’s post seems to have increased them on the UH campus.

On Saturday afternoon, the UH SGA released a message from Student Body President Shane Smith via Facebook in which he called for reconciliation and peaceful dialogue on campus amid growing racial tension across the country and in the UH community, but didn’t specifically mention his vice president’s statement.

“It’s how we direct our anger that determines our success—we can let it guide and destroy us or we can use it as motivation to advocate for change,” Smith said.

Some UH students addressed Sethi’s statement more directly on social media, expressing great offense at her sentiment and asserting that it dehumanized the African-American community at UH. The students, as well as outside supporters, vowed to fight for her removal from office, and managed to get the hashtag #RemoveRohini to trend on Twitter.

One Twitter user identifying himself as a UH alumnus expressed his outrage with an attempt at humor, asking, "Can we fire her up now? Like just fry this girl? Lol pls pls guys. #RemoveRohini."

Another current student pledged that although she had voted for Sethi in the past, she will now work to remove her from office over the post.

As the UH community reacted to Sethi’s statement, upset students were interviewed by local news media and SGA issued a second statement Tuesday further distancing itself from Sethi.

“SGA consists of many members with diverse viewpoints,” the statement read. “Of course, no one opinion can be considered representative of every person in the organization.”

Sethi, who is of Indian heritage, responded to the backlash once more Tuesday, apologizing in a Facebook post for failing to realize that her post would be interpreted in light of her leadership position, but clarifying that she does indeed believe that all lives matter.

“Visually we are black, white, tan, and a hundred shades between but we are all human, thus I believe that all lives matter,” Sethi points out. “Our community is the most diverse in the nation, and we should cherish the lesson that teaches us. I hope to embrace language that binds us together rather than language that singles some out.”

Around the same time that Sethi was writing her Facebook post, another student started a petition addressed to university president Renu Khator seeking Sethi’s removal from office. At press time, the petition had 225 supporters, out of a goal of 500.

“It was an insensitive post that has angered and offended many students on this campus,” the petition asserts. “For this, we want her to remove [sic] or resign from office because this isn't the ‘voice’ we want portrayed for our university.”

University president Renu Khator weighed in on the controversy Wednesday, promising in a tweet that the “UH community has, and will continue to be, engaged in respectful discourse on diversity, inclusion, and unity.”

Matthew Wiltshire, an associate justice on the SGA supreme court, resigned in protest of the unforgiving reaction against Sethi’s position on the Black Lives Matter movement, and even deleted his social media accounts because of the incident.

In a Facebook post announcing his resignation, a copy of which he provided to Campus Reform, Wiltshire took one last stab at the leftists.

“Nobody has a right to destroy another for their sincerely held beliefs,” Wiltshire contends. “You can debate. You can argue. You can even be an ass. What you can’t do is grind someone down so far that their life changes.”

Wiltshire particularly laments the impact that the controversy will have on his vice president.

“The leaders of BLM on our campus, either through reckless abandon or purposeful calculation, have gotten the media involved in a way that is sure to create negative press for Rohini in particular,” he writes. “The end result is that an anonymous crowd will attempt to destroy the career and future livelihood of a good person.”

Wiltshire told Campus Reform that the SGA will host a town hall Thursday evening for students to discuss their feelings on Sethi’s statement and race relations on campus, which Smith confirmed in a separate email.

The University of Houston, located in Houston, Texas, is the second most ethnically diverse research university in the country and boasts over 40,000 students, according to its website.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC