The University of Houston has offered the latest example of how free speech is being rapidly eradicated on our campuses. Rohini Sethi, vice president of the university’s student government association, was given a 50-day suspension from her student government post for saying “all lives matter” on social media. She has now been told that the suspension will be lifted after she publicly apologized and agreed to attend cultural events.
Sethi originally wrote “#ForgetBlackLivesMatter; more like AllLivesMatter.” This was done in response to the murder of five police officers. She was immediately denounced as racist and various students claimed that she had created a hostile environment by stating her viewpoint. Student government President Shane Smith responded with the draconian measures.
Now, Sethi will be allowed to return after a type of public confession that seemed more appropriate to a reeducation camp than an American campus. Sethi issued a joint statement with Smith that said that “I have chosen to take these steps on my own because of the division I’ve created among our student body,. I may have the right to post what I did, but I still should not have. My words at the time didn’t accurately convey my feeling and cause many students to lose their faith in me to advocate for them. I will always continue to learn and be ready to discuss these issues.”
So she has the right to speak but will be sanctioned if she does?
Smith is qouted in the Washington Post as saying:
“Her post and subsequent actions were very divisive. It caused some in our student body to become very upset with her. They lost faith in her ability to represent them because they felt that she did not understand or respect the struggles in their lives.”
Smith actually apologized to those who wanted more of a sanction, writing “For those that are disappointed by the change, this is a compromise based in the reality of the situation. My stance on racial injustice has always been clear. For all involved, this is truly the best outcome.” No, I do not believe it is the best outcome. The best outcome would be to respect the right of all students to speak freely.
We have previously discussed (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) the erosion of free speech on college and university campuses as students and faculty are punished for expressing views deemed offensive to any group. In the meantime, we have also seen protests by Black Lives Matter and other groups that silence other students with little response from university administrators.
The controversy of University of Houston shows how schools are now instilling speech regulation as an accepted part of academic environments. The result is a new generation of students taught that they must conform to majoritarian or official views if they want to be educated or avoid sanctions. The primary responsibility for this rollback on free speech rests with the faculty and administrators of our schools, who have often supported such notion of speech as “microaggressions” or hostile acts under school codes.
While Sethi originally stood by her comments, she has now been brought to heel under a de facto speech code. None of this has anything to do with the merits of the rivaling views on the use of “All Lives Matter.” It deals with the right of students to engage in an open debate on such issues. I recently spoke with a student at Missouri (groundzero for the controversy over Melissa Click), for example, who told me that he no longer felt that he could even raise concerns over the demands of “Black Lives Matter” at his school. Despite his support for measures to fight inequality and racism, he said that students no longer felt that they could question even the list of demands being made by the group. This is someone who supports the effort to reform aspects of his school but still fears speaking about the issues. He noted that his faculty has also been silenced in the aftermath of the controversy. His experience is not unique as faculty and staff have succeeded in chilling the speech of those with questions or opposing views on our campuses.