Photo of SFC members sparks controversy regarding diversity. Courtesy of ASPSU Instagram profile

Student Fee Committee holds public forum following diversity controversy

The Portland State Student Fee Committee is facing controversy following comments by PSU community members on the lack of cultural diversity in student government.

An Instagram photo posted to the Associated Students of Portland State University’s official account, which featured all seven members of the SFC standing with their arms crossed, was criticized by users in the comment section as being problematic.

The comment that sparked the argument was posted by user @_eva.gabriela_, “A group of white men are in charge of our student fees? Sure okay why not I see no problem.”

Members of the SFC, as well as the official ASPSU Instagram account, responded by saying that the SFC is elected by the student body and that anyone—regardless of race, gender or sexuality—is welcome to run. @aspsupdx wrote, “You had an opportunity to vote for someone else if you wanted to. I would be careful assuming the sexuality, let alone intention, of people whom you do not know.”

One user involved in the argument, @fotografkar, stated multiple members of the SFC are not white and are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m also on the side criticizing the lack of an adequate level of diversity in SFC. But, are all members of SFC white cis males? No,” @fotografkar wrote. “Even if it were so, no one should be assuming that, based on one photo.”

In an Instagram story, ASPSU responded to the incident. “It has come to our attention that there was a heated discussion in the comment section of our recent post of the Student Fee Committee,” ASPSU wrote. “Questions were raised of the elected status, harmful views, and intention of some members on the Committee. We take these matters very seriously. Derogatory comments coupled with assumptions of race, identity, and sexual orientation led to an unproductive and hostile social environment.”

The comment section quickly devolved into more and more allegations. One user, @_queerprincess_, claimed that a member of the SFC is a white supremacist and affiliated with the far-right group the Proud Boys. Another user, @hester_lane_sonnier, said that a member of the SFC was threatening them in their direct messages. All SFC members involved in the back-and-forth refuted these claims.

The SFC held an open public forum on Aug. 22 where the comments were discussed. Fouad Mohiadeen—a member of the SFC who was one of the most active participants in the Instagram comments—was singled out by multiple community members who were also involved in the argument. In response to @_queerprincess_ stating that a member in the photo is a white supremacist, Mohiadeen (@astronaut_bear) wrote “why because he’s a white male and isn’t queer…shut up with your bullshit” on the post.

They also voiced their concern about SFC member Philip Arola’s alleged involvement in white supremacy groups and the urgency of addressing his and Mohiadeen’s actions. Grace Hagemann, the equal rights advocacy director at ASPSU, called for the removal of Mohiadeen from the SFC as well as the revocation of his Educational Leadership Service Award.

Mohiadeen refuted all claims that he threatened anyone. He said he responded because he felt the comments were offensive toward the SFC and that he would refuse to make an apology, according to the meeting minutes.

After an exchange in which the SFC Chair Jose Rojas-Fallas said there are avenues for the impeachment of an SFC member, Gabriel Trumbly, another SFC member, said during the meeting he does not believe Mohiadeen should be able to continue working with the SFC.

Candace Avalos, the advisor for student government, said at the meeting she hopes ASPSU can grow through this experience.

In the comments of the Instagram photo, one user claimed that Arola has been removed from the SFC. As of yet, it is unclear whether or not this is true, or if any other members of the SFC will be impeached following the incident.

“Inappropriate language directed from specific members of student government was unprofessional and will not be tolerated,” ASPSU said via their Instagram story. “Assuming intention or other qualities of another person’s identity do not foster an environment of education, reciprocity, and understanding.”

“We believe everyone’s voice matters, expect everyone’s perspective be acknowledged and highly encourage everyone to be willing and able to have empathetic civil discourse. Looking toward the future, we expect our comment section to be used as a space for respectful civil discourse, and as a place for differing opinions to be shared.”

The post encourages anyone with further questions regarding the incident to email [email protected]