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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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Students demand removal of SGA VP through social media


Rohini dos

Tensions have risen over a Facebook post by Rohini Sethi, the SGA vice president, and now students are calling for her removal. | Trey Strange/The Cougar

Twitter and Facebook users are calling for the resignation of the student body vice president after a controversial Facebook post last Thursday.

“Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter,” SGA Vice President Rohini Sethi wrote at 10:10 p.m. Thursday. The post has since been deleted, but screenshots of it from students of all ethnicities have erupted over social media, especially Twitter, with the hashtag #removerohini.

Wesley Okereke, a psychology senior and the UH NAACP president, said he hopes that the University and SGA will “respond to the issue accordingly.”

“I am deeply disappointed in the comments made by our student body VP, Rohini Sethi,” Okereke said. “To say, ‘Forget #BlackLivesMatter,’ as if we were not a factor in her getting voted into office is a slap in the face to the entire student body. Also, with this school being the No. 2 most diverse university in the nation, comments such as these are unacceptable because it misrepresents the large minority student body here at UH.”

For accounting senior Alexis Sanders, Sethi’s words weren’t just harsh, they were incendiary. She doesn’t feel like Sethi can fully represent her, and therefore, shouldn’t be in student government.

“Being a black woman, her comment was an insensitive, disgusting, thoughtless, and blatantly disrespectful remark,” Sanders said. “Her comment proved she lacks sympathy for her constituents, and if she lacks sympathy for a portion of the students she represents, then she cannot represent the student body as whole. To say, ‘Forget #BlackLivesMatter,” is to say forget all the injustices we face and have faced for years as an African-American race. We are just supposed to simply forget systematic racism, unjust sentences, police brutality and the unlawful killings of the African-American race.”

SGA President Shane Smith said that the opinion was not SGA’s official position.

“SGA believes that the diversity of our student body is what has led to our success as a university,” Smith said. “While we value each other’s differences, there are racial injustices throughout our country that prevent true equality. We all need to work together to be part of the solution.”

On July 9, Smith wrote a letter to all students addressing racial tensions and calling for change. In April, he appointed the first Special Advisor to the President for Campus Diversity.

Niya Blair, director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, spoke with Sethi last Friday after a forum on black men and police officers presented by the Black Student Caucus. After receiving negative feedback on Facebook the day before, Sethi invited dissenters to join her at the event and voice their thoughts.

Blair declined to comment on her conversation with students but said that she hopes university students take the recent tragedies in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas to create a conversation about race and respecting different cultures.

“Yes, we have a diverse student population, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t experience challenges like other institutions, and I think this is a good wake up call as a university to see that there’s an opportunity for us,” Blair said. “Let alone what Rohini posts — there are people who agree with what she posted, not saying it’s right or wrong — but this is an opportunity for us to have a large conversation on this campus to really look within at how we look at diversity and inclusion.”

At the heart of the issue, Sethi promoted one advocacy hashtag, #AllLivesMatter, over another. In a popular analogy, Blair likened the debate between the movements to a debate between two people arguing over whether to use a water hose on a burning or non-burning house.

Earlier this year, Sethi accidentally used UH SGA’s Twitter to criticize a candidate from the PowerHouse party. She said she meant to post her comments from her personal account and apologized.

Despite calls for her removal, impeachment proceedings would be a long process. According to the SGA constitution, it would take three-fourths of the senators, or unanimous decision between the president and speaker of the house, a now-vacant position, to nominate her for impeachment. Then, she would stand trial in the Supreme Court.

Leah Nash also contributed to the reporting of this story. Rohini Sethi has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

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