Bodhi Small ’22 was removed from his position as a Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) General Assembly (GA) senator by a unanimous vote at his impeachment trial on Sunday, Feb. 9. During the trial, WSA senators criticized Small’s intentions behind entering the impeachment process, highlighting that he initially sponsored the articles of impeachment brought against him.
The articles of impeachment brought forth against Small at the trial listed two reasons for impeachment. First, Small is not enrolled as a student at the University for the spring semester because will be leaving the country tomorrow to study abroad. Secondly, he has had three unexcused absences between his GA and committee meeting attendance since the start of this semester. While there is no clear procedure specified in the WSA bylaws for senators who will study abroad in the spring, senators typically resign following the end of their fall semester term. Within the articles of impeachment, primary sponsor Ben Garfield ’22 and additional sponsors Katelin Penner ’22, Sam Brumer ’22, and Small—who was later removed by Garfield and Penner as a sponsor—condemned what he saw as Small’s lack of respect, evident in his decision to not resign.
In the last ten years, only one other impeachment and removal has taken place, according to WSA Chief of Staff Adam Hickey ’22. The vote to remove that senator for chronic absences and “disinterest in the processes and efficacy of the WSA” was 20-4 with five abstentions, Hickey wrote in a message to The Argus.
Small’s impeachment process, which involves investigating a senator’s bylaw violations and presenting them to the GA, began Sunday, Feb. 2 after 25 senators signed a petition for the articles of impeachment to be presented. Small himself signed the petition, according to an email he wrote to The Argus.
“I wanted a vote on whether I resigned or let them impeach me, but whether that vote was held was voted down, so I was going to resign at the end of the meeting,” Small wrote in an email to The Argus. “But before I got a chance to resign, someone handed me the petition, so I decided to go for it.”
The impeachment trial on Feb. 9 began with Hickey reading the articles of impeachment. According to the WSA bylaws, following the presentation of the articles, the impeached senator is allowed to testify or send in written testimony. However, Small was not present at the trial and also did not send Hickey any formal testimony.
WSA Vice President Ayana Dudley ’20 then presented an open letter from former WSA senator and former WSA Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair Eugene Smith ’20. Smith condemned the triviality with which the impeachment process was being undertaken.
“Impeachment from the assembly is something that should be taken seriously and not used as a gimmick, or a form of entertainment amongst peers,” Smith wrote. “Impeachment is an action that should be taken out of necessity and not merely for comedy. From my understanding of the Article of Impeachment shared in the email, as well as discussion with current senators, this impeachment fails to cross the threshold of necessity. From my understanding of what’s going on, it seems that this article of impeachment was drafted as a mere joke about the fact that Senator Bodhi is going abroad and has chosen to not take his position seriously and simply resign for a semester. This sentiment is further heightened when looking at the fact that Bodhi is a sponsor of the Article[s] of Impeachment.”
Smith also commented on how the process could affect the student body’s impression of the WSA.
“The entire campus received an email about this week’s GA with the subject line opening up with ‘An Impeachment,’” Smith wrote. “With such an eye catching start to a subject line, many students opened the email to see that the actual matter at hand was nothing serious. When you do things like this, the student body will only further distance themselves from the assembly seeing that these ploys can be seen as nuisances.”
Smith additionally pointed out that the reasons for impeaching Small were not clear in the initial email, and could negatively affect the WSA’s diversity.
“For those who have no knowledge of the processes that take place within the WSA, that note can be misleading and lead others to believe that they can not serve on the WSA if they want to go abroad,” Smith wrote. “This messaging in the end will overall affect the diversity of the assembly. During my last semester in the assembly in the Spring of 2019, I saw the beginning of this new culture within the WSA forming, and I see it is growing. I ask you current senators to think about how your actions affect the assembly, specifically affect the diversity of the assembly.”
In an interview with The Argus, Hickey clarified that senators who wish to go abroad are not usually impeached.
“…[In] response to concerns that were raised at yesterday’s meeting, I’d like to emphasize that studying abroad is not usually any barrier to serving on the WSA, Bodhi was only impeached after he went abroad because he refused to resign his seat,” Hickey wrote. “Two other senators went abroad this semester, and there was no effort to impeach either for doing so because they both resigned from the WSA when they did. Any student who plans to go abroad should not feel that that prevents them from running for a spot on the WSA; there is no reason other than refusal to resign that they would be impeached for doing so.”
Dudley then fielded questions from senators in response to the letter. Penner asked for clarification on whether the impeachment process was necessary. Hickey replied that it was; Small had missed three GA and committee meetings this semester, which is an impeachable offense.
WSA senator Zhaoyu Sun ’20 also condemned Small’s conduct, both in sponsoring his own articles of impeachment and in past WSA proceedings in which he submitted joke budget requests to the WSA Student Budget Committee (SBC).
“…I would also like to bring up to the table that Mr. Small has submitted nonsensical budget requests to the SBC, effectively decreasing our bureaucratic efficiency, and because of the nature of his actions, I believe that it is my obligation to condemn him in the GA,” Sun said.
In response to Sun’s comment, Garfield decided to remove Small’s name as a sponsor, a decision which was approved by Penner. When asked in an interview with The Argus about adding Small’s name as a sponsor to the articles of impeachment and then removing it, Garfield reflected on his initial intentions and how impeachment should be viewed as a punishment.
“He asked to do it and I didn’t necessarily think that it meant anything,” Garfield said. “I thought it would just make it easier to have this process go through if he was like, ‘Yeah, remove me.’…. But I would then say his name shouldn’t be on there. He shouldn’t be supporting that, it should be a punishment to him. It should be a recourse for us to use when someone has acted in such a manner that is so inappropriate that they shouldn’t be serving anymore. He has done such a thing, he has been removed, and I think that’s the best thing we could’ve done in this situation.”
SBC chair Aditi Shenoy ’20 added during the trial that Smith brought up important points about the WSA’s diversity in his letter. When later interviewed by The Argus, she emphasized that the diversity of the current assembly is not represented in the distribution of speaking time during GA meetings.
“Parliamentary procedure is supposed to make sure that all voices get heard, but in practice the voices that get heard are the ones who know how to navigate the institution of GA the best, the ones who understand the rules and have the loudest voices,” Shenoy said. “Even though we have a very diverse senate this year, we are still hearing certain kinds of voices more than others, which is due to the power dynamic in the room and the fact that some people are better at navigating these institutions than others is inevitable I think and as a body I think we could be doing a lot more to make sure certain kinds of voices get heard.”
WSA Community Committee Chair Emily McEvoy ’22 asked if there was any policy on what typically happens when senators go abroad. Dudley responded that there was not, and in a later interview with The Argus, mentioned that she hoped to clarify this process.
“This was my first experience with the impeachment process in the WSA,” Dudley wrote in an email to The Argus. “Though I do not think the manner it was conducted in was the most professional, I believe the grounds for impeachment were there, considering the impeached senator did accrue 3 unexcused absences. I am interested in working on a bylaw that discusses senators and going abroad.”
The meeting was then closed for private discussions, per the procedure outlined in WSA bylaws. The assembly discussed, then voted by secret ballot on whether or not to remove Small. When the meeting was reopened to the public, Hickey announced that the GA had voted to remove Small 28-0, with no abstentions.
“Bodhi had legitimate reasons for wanting to be impeached; as far as I’m aware, he didn’t refuse to resign simply out of disrespect for the WSA or its senators, or simply in pursuit of a joke,” Hickey wrote in a message to The Argus. “Although I would’ve preferred that Bodhi had just resigned and not forced us to remove him, I think that condemning him, as some have done, is uncalled for. My understanding is that he intended for the process to somehow be a satirization of the WSA that would ideally inspire some reforms in our Bylaws and structure.”
Small commented on his removal in an email to The Argus.
“…I’m proud of the WSA for unanimously removing me,” Small wrote in an email to The Argus. “It would be really embarrassing if anyone voted to keep me on the assembly. I leave the country Tuesday night and won’t be back until August. So it would be really weird to allow me to continue to be on the WSA this semester.”
WSA President Justin Ratkovic ’20 reflected on Small’s impeachment and subsequent removal.
“Impeaching Bodhi was extremely difficult but a necessity for us to continue having an effective Assembly,” Ratkovic wrote in an email to The Argus. “It was slightly frustrating that he decided not to follow precedent and resign when going abroad, which everyone has traditionally done, but it forces us to recommit to the expectations of each senator during their tenure.”
Jocelyn Maeyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.