The Undergraduate Senate discussed a bill to impeach Senator Sam Schimmel ’22 amid sexual misconduct allegations, and called Stanford police over a dispute involving a Daily reporter covering the meeting.
In a violation of Article I, Section 7 of the ASSU Constitution, the Senate made a session of its Tuesday night meeting closed-door without proper prior notice and urged observers, including Daily reporter Erin Woo ’21, to vacate the room. Though all observers eventually complied, Woo left her phone in the room while it was still recording audio of the meeting. Woo deleted the recording after conversations with police.
Senate Treasurer Kobe Hopkins ’22 authored the bill to impeach Schimmel, contending that three undergraduates who identify as female described “the abhorrent nature of their interactions with” Schimmel. The bill denounces “domestic harassment and slut-shaming.”
In a statement to The Daily before the meeting, which he said a conflict kept him from attending, Senator Micheal Brown ’22 wrote that he had prepared a memo with testimonies from three individuals whom Schimmel had “bullied and abused” to be given to the Senate in their meeting.
The Senate moved to close its doors for a portion of the session. Two senators told The Daily that during this time the body discussed evidence that alleged sexual misconduct by Schimmel.
The senate’s minutes stated that the testimonies were provided anonymously, and that Schimmel “agrees that his behavior and statements can be described as ‘unbecoming.’” Article II, Section 3 of the ASSU Constitution stipulates that senators can be dismissed from the body for “actions deemed unbecoming” of a senator.
Senate Parliamentarian Mià Bahr ’22 said after the closed session that Schimmel had “admitted to sexual harassment within this meeting.” Schimmel said that that was “patently false.” Schimmel also denied that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone.
Hopkins questioned Schimmel about “slut-shaming.”
“Am I proud of it? No,” Schimmel said. “Am I ashamed of it? Yes. Do I think it’s something that embodies my character? No.”
Discussing the allegations in an interview, Schimmel said, “Parts are true, parts are untrue.”
“I said things I’m not proud of,” he added. “These are realities. There are reasons for why these things are said but there are no excuses.”
Schimmel pushed for the public airing of allegations.
“We need to make sure that when we’re accused of something, we need to know who’s coming forward with it,” he said. “If there’s no accountability, how do we know there’s any validity?”
The ASSU Constitution requires the publication of information about “the general content of a closed meeting and the reason for its closure shall be made” 24 hours in advance of the meeting. Though Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22 originally indicated on the Senate meeting agenda that a resolution would be discussed privately, the updated version of the agenda viewable immediately before the meeting included no mention of a closed session. There was never a reason given on the agenda for the closed session.
The Constitution also allows for three reasons for closing meetings. It’s unclear that any of those criteria were met. Two clauses cover discussion of “pending litigation” and “proprietary business practices.”
Another criterion involves discussion of “the appointment, the employment, the performance, or the dismissal of an Association member or employee who is neither the President, the Vice President, nor a member of an Association legislative body.”
As a member of the Senate, this clause would not apply to Schimmel. Alimire, after the meeting’s end, said that she did not know the identities of the survivors of the alleged misconduct.
Woo, the Daily reporter, protested closure of the meeting but was urged by senators to leave. After senators threatened to call the public safety department, Woo said, she left the room.
She left her phone, which was recording audio, in the room. Senate Deputy Chair Veronica Ayala ’22 later took the phone.
In a statement to The Daily, Woo wrote that she believed that the meeting’s closure was unconstitutional, and that she recorded the meeting so that the knowledge of what happened could inform her reporting.
“I was never at any point planning to publish the recording, or to publish survivors’ identifiable information,” she added. “My intention as a journalist was to understand as accurately and completely as possible what was going on, so I could write an accurate and complete article.”
Stanford police officers arrived at the Nitery building near the end of the meeting.
After the meeting ended, Alimire said that her priority was to protect the survivors of the alleged misconduct.
Senators Alimire, Ayala and Hopkins, as well as Woo and two Daily editors — Editor-in-Chief Julia Ingram ’21 and Executive Editor Holden Foreman ’21 — discussed the incident with the officers in the Senate’s chamber and Assistant Dean of Student Life Rachel Aumann.
Ayala said she would return Woo’s phone if Woo agreed to delete the recording, according to Foreman and Ingram. The police said they believed a crime, eavesdropping, had occurred, and that if Woo did not agree to delete the recording, they would take the phone as evidence and a district attorney would determine whether to press charges. California Penal Code Section 632 forbids recording a “confidential communication” without the consent of all parties.
Woo opted to delete the recording, and Ayala returned the phone.
“We support Erin’s decision to delete the recording,” Ingram wrote in a statement. “We still, however, believe that the closed portion of the meeting was unconstitutional, and that the Senate had no right to shut out The Daily or anyone else.”
“We take the sensitivity of any story involving sexual misconduct allegations very seriously,” she added, writing that The Daily does not publish the names of survivors of sexual misconduct or alleged sexual misconduct without their consent.
In a statement published as a Daily op-ed after the meeting, Alimire and Ayala wrote that closing the meeting to review witnesses’ testimonies was “the only way to ensure their [the witnesses’] safety” and that they stood by the decision, while stating that the Senate “mishandled the situation” in specific ways related to Senate protocol.
The Schimmel impeachment bill is expected to be put to a vote at the Senate’s next meeting.
Bills and resolutions to endorse the demands of a Stanford Womxn’s March petition, endorse a report on sexual violence and make changes to the appropriations process were also presented at the meeting.
This article has been updated to make reference to California Penal Code Section 632, and to a statement by Alimire and Ayala.
Contact Charlie Curnin at ccurnin ‘at’ stanford.edu.