Associated Students of Portland State University is struggling with multiple member resignations in the wake of Philip Arola’s impeachment trial—the former student fee committee member allegedly tied to the alt-right group the Proud Boys.
Since Arola’s resignation, 13 other members of ASPSU have resigned, according to Student Government Advisor Candace Avalos. With so many members resigning or graduating over the last two terms, current members are facing obstacles in catering to a diverse student community.
Grace Hagemann, former equal rights advocacy director, resigned in January of this year in part to a scheduling conflict with a new job but also due to disagreements internal to ASPSU regarding Arola’s impeachment trial. For Hagemann, there was a lack of accountability within ASPSU and—at the time of the impeachment trial—PSU students were represented by members who did not actually represent them.
“We had an entire summer filled just trying to get two members of the SFC kicked out of the student government who were threatening to the student body and the…well-being of our students,” Hagemann said.
On Dec. 13, after much debate, ASPSU sent out an apology for Arola’s and another SFC member’s actions because, in Hagemann’s words, “so many people were hurt by the situation.”
“The apology took a senate vote just for the president to do anything about it,” Hagemann said. “Even then it was a fight and it was not considered by everyone as a bare minimum…it was clear to me that I wasn’t working with people with the same goal.”
“Our leadership spoke so adamantly against [the apology], it made ASPSU an organization I could no longer stand with in good conscience,” said India Wynne, former ASPSU senator and academic affairs committee member who also resigned in January.
“In some topics, the disagreements turn too personal,” Wynne said. “Rather than just saying we disagree at the end of the vote [and] we could walk away from it.”
According to Wynne, their resignation also allowed them to pursue other passions: “I’m very passionate about activism, so I feel like my energy is better suited for volunteering and working for veterans and LGBTQ, on those projects.”
“One director left because of the tension last term,” said Violet Gibson, president of ASPSU, in reference to Hagemann. Gibson continued on to highlight the passion and dedication of the former equal rights advocacy director.
Nolan Bylenga, senator of international and legislative affairs, joined ASPSU last fall. In an interview, he emphasized the importance of focusing on getting the job done instead of differentiating each other through contrasting political viewpoints: “I try to get along with everyone, no matter if they’re a Democrat or a Republican because at the end of the day, we’re all here trying to serve the student body better.”
“The student government is not for everyone,” said Motutama Sipelli, current student life director. “Some people flourish in it, and some people just don’t like the general vibe in it.”
According to Sipelii, students outside of ASPSU might assume being part of the student government is an easy task, but for him: “What we do is hard; there is more to it than just shouting our accomplishments we did. We’re not like that. We’re humble. We serve the needs of the students and I encourage everyone who has concerns to reach out to us.”
Sipelli had four senators, but two have resigned following the impeachment trial. He was assigned two more senators to replace them, however, one resigned and the other was promoted to legislative affairs director. With so many vacancies, Sipelii emphasized the challenges he faces.
“I don’t have enough people for quorum [the minimum number of members present to make a meeting valid] and I was planning to do a lot of projects with the people who left,” Sipelli said. “That leaves me with no one to partner with.”
In its current state, ASPSU directors, Vice President Kyle Leslie-Christy and Gibson have had to take other roles in lieu of vacancies, according to Gibson.
On the other hand, Gibson believes empty spots could be beneficial for ASPSU as it proves the adequacy and hard work of current members who are willing to multi-task.
According to the ASPSU homepage, PSU’s student government represents 27,000 students and lobbies “for lower tuition, lower fees, cultural competency and a safe campus for all.”