The Student Government Association (SGA) Senate voted unanimously in favor of President Varsha Vijayakumar’s interpretation of the constitution at today’s SGA Senate meeting, ensuring that she will not be impeached over her upcoming winter term absence. Over 30 students attended the meeting, which was open to the public.
Vijayakumar, who will be off campus for winter term as part of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Initiative scholarship, explained during the senate meeting that her interpretation of the constitution does not require her to be physically present during winter term in order to fulfill her full term as president. The constitution is unclear on the matter, but gives the president the ability to interpret ambiguous clauses that are not related to senate proceedings.
By voting to uphold Vijayakumar’s interpretation, the senate determined that there are no grounds to impeach her over her winter term absence. Atwater Senator Jack Brady ’20 and Junior Senator Sam Lyons ’21 were not present for the vote.
The senate also appointed new members to the impeachment committee in case the committee needs to address any future concerns. Two seats were left open after Brady resigned from the committee on Saturday and senior Senator Anthony Salas ’20 recused himself from the committee on Friday, due to his past romantic involvement with Vijayakumar.
Impeachment Committee Chair Paul Flores-Clavel ’22 proposed appointing Kaitlyn Velazquez ’23 and Miguel Sanchez ’23, the two first-year senators, to the committee.
“I think that there’s a level of impartiality that comes with the fact that they’re first year senators,” he said. “I appreciate their sincerity when it comes to anything surrounding SGA, and I would hope that they are able to balance their personal feelings with the fact that they sit on this committee, which is a big deal as we’ve clearly seen.”
Flores-Clavel also clarified the intended message of the email the committee sent to Vijayakumar on Tuesday, Dec. 3 during the meeting.
“I want to apologize to Varsha and take responsibility for the tone of the initial email that was sent, as it made it seem that impeachment proceedings would be occurring today. That was not the intended message,” he said. “The initial email was sent out as a notice that members of this senate have concerns regarding the specific clause outlined in that email.”
Several senators also spoke in support of Vijayakumar at the meeting, highlighting her leadership skills and expressing their desire to find a solution.
“I think this points to a larger issue at Middlebury and the way that students approach things,” said Mistaya Smith ’21.5, who noted that she received a lot of feedback today from constituents against impeachment. “We tend to be very focused on what we’re supposed to do rule-wise, rather than what we should do as people and friends and students with real lives outside of everything that we’re doing here.”
Elissa Asch ’22.5, who serves in the presidential cabinet as the director of the Sexual and Relationship Respect Committee, also spoke during the meeting. She was among several members of the cabinet who stayed after their own meeting to sit in on the senate meeting.
“In talking to the members of the SGA cabinet, it seems very clear to us that to spend time talking about or moving forward with any kind of impeachment proceeding or discussion is taking away from good SGA work that Varsha and other people are trying to do to better the student life here,” she said. “It would be disingenuous and a clear indication that people are operating off personal reasons and not to represent their constituencies.”
Before the senate voted to approve Vijayakumar’s constitutional interpretation of her term, she spoke about the lesson she hopes people take away from the events of this week.
“I really want this to be a teachable moment,” she said. “This has been the worst week of my life. I want you to know that I have cried every single day this week. I want you to know that I did not touch any school work, I want you to know that I now have two incompletes in classes that now over my holiday break I am going to be finishing … No student, regardless of their position at this institution, even if they chose to run to be the SGA President, should have to go through that.”
She also expressed her desire to refocus the government’s attention on its work, rather than on her.
“I was really frustrated this week that it seemed like most of our productive time as a senate was spent talking about me and my personal situation,” she said. “The big point is this detracts from us as a body being cohesive and collaborating and communicating with each other.”
Note: Sarah Asch is the sister of Elissa Asch. The editors of this article decided to include her quotes because Elissa was the only member of cabinet to speak at the meeting.