Student activists are demanding an apology from the Associated Students of Portland State University following the resignation of Student Fee Committee member Philip Arola, effective 1 p.m. on Sept. 30.
Arola, who faced impeachment proceedings on Sept. 23, resigned after ASPSU’s Judicial Board voted 2-2 not to impeach. When asked why he resigned after sitting for the impeachment proceedings, Arola said he did it to prove a point.
“I wanted to prove that I didn’t do anything wrong…because if I resigned in the middle of that impeachment process, it would sort of be a tacit admission that…I did something wrong, I did something that would justify removing me from student government, and I would just be evading the consequences,” Arola said.
According to a statement ASPSU President Violet Gibson read at the senate meeting on Sept. 30, Arola resigned due to a “hostile work environment.”
Arola said he felt like he could no longer be a part of ASPSU after other members “subtly hinted” they would make official business impossible to conduct if Arola stayed on the SFC.
“Every decision the SFC would make would be questioned because of my presence on the SFC,” Arola said. “I decided that instead of risking the entire student bodies’ well-being and funding over this petty argument, I’d just step aside.”
Shortly after a public forum held on Aug. 22 addressing the conduct of SFC members on social media, a photo circulated depicting Arola with Roger Stone and members of the far-right group the Proud Boys. Arola said he apologized for past association with the Proud Boys.
“There’s nothing else I want to apologize for…I don’t apologize for my political beliefs because at no point in my life have I ever been a white supremacist or a white nationalist or anything like that,” Arola said. “I’ve never been a violent homophobe.”
Arola cited an incident within ASPSU where one of his peers brought up that he voted in favor of an overage request for the Queer Resource Center as evidence that he was biased against [the LGBTQ+ community].
“It doesn’t logically follow that if I were in fact a white supremacist I would be giving money to the QRC, but that’s what he said,” Arola said.
“I already apologized for associating with the Proud Boys in the photo, but beyond that there’s nothing to apologize for…and I don’t think there’s anything for people in ASPSU to apologize for, but I’ll leave that up to them.”
Arola is staying on as the head of the PSU College Republicans. He said the atmosphere was completely different than ASPSU.
“We don’t control where any funding goes or any real university activities besides…our own,” he said. “We don’t really serve anybody directly aside from being a conservative voice on campus. I don’t think I’d be disruptive of anything in my role in [PSU College Republicans].”
Several student activists voiced their complaints during the public comment section of the senate meeting after the official announcement that Arola had resigned, demanding both an apology from Arola and ASPSU.
After the public forum addressing the conduct of SFC members, ASPSU published a notice through the Instagram story feature, stating “derogatory comments coupled with assumptions of race, identity and sexual orientation led to an unproductive and hostile social environment.”
The statement also read that in the future, ASPSU expects the comment section to be “used as a space for respectful civil discourse” and as a “place for differing opinions to be shared.”
ASPSU Senator India Wynne said they didn’t know the reason why ASPSU couldn’t make a formal public apology.
“I think that making constitutional changes is more than feasible,” Wynne said. “A member of this body should not be able to cause that much pain and fear. We’ve just got to do better. It should not be allowed to happen again.”
Student activist and community organizer Angeline Booth said she is demanding—along with other students—that “ASPSU make an apology that goes out to every single student via email that details the harm that has been caused [and] that apologizes that Philip was ever even allowed to be on ASPSU and the SFC.”
Booth also said she thought it was necessary for Arola to make a “true” apology.
“He has already made an apology on the record,” Booth said. “However, it by no means addresses the harm that he has caused.”
Booth said the email sent out to the student body should detail how ASPSU will be holding people accountable in the future.
“We’re not done here,” Booth said. “Even though [Arola] may be gone, that does not mean there isn’t more harm that can be caused or will be caused. We are working to help create a better student government—one that is more inclusive, one that more marginalized people not only feel like they can be in the room, but to be able to be at the table and able to create programming.”