A black student government member at South Carolina's Clemson University will face impeachment after sitting in protest during the Pledge of Allegiance -- but those who began the proceedings denied that the attempt to oust him has anything to do with the symbolic action.
Clemson Undergraduate Student Body Vice President Jaren Stewart will undergo an impeachment trial after school senators voted 40 to 18 in favor, reports The Tiger, the school's news outlet.
Stewart and approximately 10 other student government members remained seated during the flag salute at a meeting in late September, notes USA Today. Like the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, the group was looking to make a statement about injustices that people of color experience in America.
"The social exclusion and isolation is very real and very damaging to students here," Stewart said, according to USA Today. "We understand the motif that there's a Clemson family -- and it doesn't include everyone."
When he and the other students sat, Stewart said that there were some in attendance "who were vehemently against it" and made their opinions known.
The student leader maintained that the impeachment stems from the protest and pointed out that the allegations that he acted inappropriately while working as a resident assistant the previous year arose right after sitting for the pledge, though some school senators disagreed.
"I cannot stress enough how the situation has absolutely nothing to do with the flag protests or contain any racial motivation at all," said student Sen. Miller Hoffman, who filed the articles of impeachment on Oct. 23, notes The Tiger. "Such a narrative is without evidence and completely untrue."
Hoffman said Stewart was fired from his RA position amid charges of trespassing and unlawful entry as well as a no-contact order he was reportedly issued. The impeachment documents cite an unverified school incident report that was photographed and published online, notes the Anderson Independent Mail. Since leaking the document would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, some have questioned its authenticity.
Some students protested, calling the impeachment racially motivated, while some others said the trial would provide "closure."
"A trial will help us further determine what is able to be said being that it will be coming from the witnesses," Hoffman said, according to The Tiger.
"There are multiple parts to my argument rooted in undeniable facts," Hoffman added.
Stewart, who is not working as an RA for the 2017 school year, said that the issue was "completely resolved" and pointed out that he was reinstated after a week-long suspension.
He called the report grossly exaggerated and said that while he had a certain degree of comfort with his residents, who had an open-door policy, he never overstepped.
"They've already made up their minds because of this trope of the villainous African-American male," said Stewart, adding: "There's a deeper systemic issue in which people are choosing what they want to hear, choosing what they want to believe exists and that's why sitting for the pledge was so important."