Zimmerman impeachment process begins after four months in limbo

Student+Government+has+not+explained+the+reasons+behind+the+impeachment+charge.+%28Photo+by+Ian+Morse+17%29

Student Government has not explained the reasons behind the impeachment charge. (Photo by Ian Morse ’17)

Emma Chen

Student Government President Mary Zimmerman ’21 had a motion of impeachment brought against her last Thursday, following initial impeachment charges made in November. In a statement posted Wednesday evening, the Student Government Association (SGA) elaborated on the details of the proceedings but declined to explain the reason for the charges.

According to the statement, the initial procedures were placed on hold due to personal matters for some of the executive board members. After a further investigation of their parliamentary rules, the organization discovered additional measures that had to be taken to effectively enact the impeachment proceedings.

A motion of impeachment was then made on March 4 after months of uncertainty.

“It’s challenging because this is our first time ever going through this very complicated process with so much from the constitution that we have to abide by,” Sherry Deng ’22, director of Student Organizations, said. “So, trying to make sure we actually understand the regulations has kind of been prolonging the process a little bit more.”

“We really want everything to be fair and happen according to the rules,” she added. 

In terms of procedure, Deng said that since the motion to impeach has already been filed, the next thing to happen will be an investigation followed by an executive board vote, which would need a two thirds majority to pass. If the motion does pass, it will go to the SGA general body for another vote and will need three fourths of the senators voting in favor to move through.

If this vote also passes, Zimmerman would be removed as president and current Vice President Ross Coleman ’22 would step into the role.

SGA follows the guidelines of Robert’s Rules of Order, which is the most commonly used manual of parliamentary procedure used in the U.S. The manual specifies that, following the motion to impeach, a committee is chosen to investigate the validity of the reports. It is unclear who is eligible to be on the committee, but the manual specifies that the members should be chosen for “their integrity and good judgment.”

The manual also specifies that the investigation be kept “quiet” and should “make a sincere effort to get the facts.” It is similarly unclear if this should prevent SGA from releasing the content of the charges, however.

The charges were brought last November amidst other calls from identity-based organizations for Zimmerman to step down.

Dear Lafayette, a Black-led student coalition dedicated to addressing the concerns of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community on campus, released a list of demands to Lafayette College last fall. Among them was a call to impeach Zimmerman.

According to the Dear Lafayette website, this demand was brought due to “Zimmerman’s silence and racist views on the Black Lives Matter movement.”  

“A lot of people of color on campus were expressing their concerns about some of the things or Tweets that came out from [Zimmerman] prior to her presidency, and just this feeling of a lack of safety and security for people of color on campus,” said Fatimata Cham ’23, team member of Dear Lafayette and representative on the SGA Equity and Inclusion Committee. “We later evolved as a demand to also include forms of transparency and accountability for the future, so for later elections students fully know who they’re voting for and feel like they’re being represented properly.” 

Cham noted that this demand was less about targeting Zimmerman specifically than establishing precedent and building stronger feelings of comfort and support between the SGA and BIPOC students on campus.  

“There’s currently a lack of communication between people of color and Student Government,” Cham said. “I think this is just one way that the Student Government can show their support for Black students and show that they’re willing to take the steps necessary to further build that relationship.”

Transparency throughout the process has been a significant issue for many student organizations, including members of Dear Lafayette. Even as a member of both Dear Lafayette and a member of the SGA Equity and Inclusion Committee, Flor de Maria Caceres Godoy ’22 said she has had difficulty staying updated with the process. 

“It’s been a struggle finding out whether or not an impeachment process is actually taking place and what the charges are,” Godoy said. 

Besides Dear Lafayette, other student organizations are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress that has been made since the charges were first brought. One of the many organizations that came out in support of Dear Lafayette’s call to impeach was the Association of Black Collegians (ABC). 

“It’s especially important for us to voice our opinion on the issue about Mary Zimmerman and Student Government because it’s an issue that affects our members specifically and how our members feel on campus,” Vice President of ABC Fah Fair ’22 said.  

“I feel like there has been a lack of transparency, because not only should they be representing the student body, but also explaining what is happening with the impeachment, like their inner workings. Students especially deserve to know the charges brought about,” she added. 

The statement published by the executives of SGA acknowledged this complaint but noted the importance of ensuring a level of confidentiality. 

“Student Government prioritizes transparency with the campus community, and our commitment to the betterment of all students has not wavered or changed,” the statement read. “We understand the frustration that many students are feeling about this process. We are also under an obligation to ensure that all members receive due process and to protect the privacy and confidentiality of these procedures.”

Zimmerman likewise noted the importance of an impartial impeachment process in an email to The Lafayette. 

“I believe that everyone has the right to enact Student Government procedures in accordance with the Student Government constitution,” she wrote. “But at the same time every person is entitled to a fair, neutral process.”

Robert’s Rules for Order stipulates that the accused has a “right to due process,” which includes being notified of the charges, time to prepare a defense and the opportunity to defend themselves.

“I think ideally we would see her held accountable,” Cham said. “Whether or not all members of the SGA agree on whether or not there needs to be accountability taken, I think a good number of students on this campus have expressed concerns and those should be heavily taken into account.” 

It is currently unclear what verdict, if any, is currently favored by members of the executive board. 

“There are so many things factored into this decision that I, and so many others, have wrestled with, so I don’t think it’ll be an easy decision at all,” Deng said. “I honestly am not sure I really know what the general consensus is yet, but whatever happens, it’s not going to be easy.” 

Moving forward, many students have insisted that there are actions besides impeachment that SGA should take to strengthen their relationship with the BIPOC students of Lafayette. 

“There needs to be more of an effort to engage with multicultural works and understand what multiculturalism on campus is and what the BIPOC students need,” Cham said.  

Zimmerman wrote that such actions are being taken and SGA is committed to representing both Dear Lafayette and BIPOC students on campus.

“A Student Government ad hoc committee is in the process of being formed to specifically examine Dear Lafayette’s demands and find ways that Student Government can help support their ideas,” she wrote.

“We’re here for a long time, so I hope to see changes in Student Government soon so that we can address these issues head-on,” Godoy added. “The hope is that future generations of students don’t have to go through the same struggles that we did.” 

Ben Fuller ’21 contributed reporting. 

Disclaimer: News Editor Lucie Lagodich ’22 is a member of the Student Government Executive Board and did not contribute reporting or writing to this article.