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Presidential candidate drops out of race following misconduct allegations

Following allegations of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct against Student Body Vice President Gustavo Spangher (above), both Spangher and running mate Yovela Debesay withdrew their candidacies from the Student Government presidential race Sunday night. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Student Body Vice President and presidential candidate Gustavo Spangher dropped out of the Student Government presidential race Sunday night after new allegations of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct against him were posted on social media.

Spangher’s withdrawal followed vice presidential candidate Yovela Debesay’s decision to drop out of the race Sunday evening. The former candidates posted letters announcing their withdrawals on their campaign’s Instagram account @gustavoandyovela2021.

The decisions were made after three recent allegations of “controlling” behavior and sexual misconduct came out against him, one anonymously via the @usfconfessions Instagram account, one via the @SurvivorsUsf Twitter account and one by Spangher’s former partner, Paige Walsh, a senior chemical engineering major, via her Instagram account @paigeinreallife.

Aside from withdrawing from the race, Spangher addressed the allegations made against him by his former partner in the letter.

“While I recognize my past biases and mistakes and believe I have grown and still am learning from past experiences, I am choosing to withdraw my candidacy for student body president because I understand the detriments of misogyny and my role in fostering that culture,” he said. 

“It’s unfortunate that this is where my leadership journey ends here at USF, but I do hope to continue to do better and be a positive influence.”

In Walsh’s three-page letter, she detailed her six-month relationship with Spangher, from spring through fall 2019, during which she documented going through “mentally and emotionally damaging experiences” with him.

“Once the curtain was pulled back, and I witnessed him behind closed doors, that good guy façade fell through,” she said. “At his core, and for all his faults I could name, I want to emphasize that Gustavo is a misogynist, and I feel that trait explains many of his negative interactions with women, as well as his male friend’s inability to see his flaws. 

“While I admit I don’t owe anyone the intimate details of my story, I fear that refusing to tell them will only protect him.”

In her letter, Walsh recounts three examples of Spangher’s alleged emotional abuse toward her. The first story takes place in the summer of 2019, when Spangher and Walsh were serving as orientation leaders (OLs). She detailed an account during which she attempted to bring order to a noisy room full of OLs, including Spangher. She said he became angry about the interaction later that evening.

“He said that the way I had treated him in front of the group (the only two words I said to him were: ‘sit down’) was derogatory and disrespectful, and that the people he talked to about the incident all agreed that he should break up with me,” she said. “He didn’t do that, but told me I was to never speak to him like that again or he’d end things immediately.”

Walsh’s second recount occurred later that summer when she went home and visited one of her old guy friends. The two went to the beach and Walsh said that Spangher became jealous when he found out that she had gone.

“He called me a liar and said it was unacceptable that I had hung out with a friend without telling him about it,” she said. “He said I was trying to lie and cover it up which meant it was a romantic trip, and because him and I had gone to the beach together before, that me and my friend were on a ‘date.’ 

“He was irrationally angry for days and we fought at length about it, all because he felt threatened that I had male friends and that I didn’t ask permission from him to hang out with them,” she said. 

The last of her examples occurred when the former couple was rehashing a day they spent together before they started dating. Walsh wrote in the letter that they had been hanging out at a bar and because she and Spangher were not romantically involved at that point, she went home with another person. When Spangher found out about the events of that night, Walsh said his response was “mortifying,” and attached pictures of his text messages from that night to her letter. 

“He thought I was unfaithful to him and never should have been involved with another man if I liked him,” she said. “He told me he ‘wouldn’t want to be with someone that has f***** every single frat guy on campus,’ and ‘Sorry if that’s the patriarchy but most frat guys are idiots and if it were true that you did that I would lose a lot of respect and admiration I had for you.’”

In response to the letter, Spangher said his views and biases about Sorority and Fraternity Life have changed ever since he joined his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, in fall 2019.

“In my past three years at USF I have learned much about my own biases, and I’ve come to realize how present misogyny has been in my life and how much I believe that was influenced by my cultural upbringing in Brazil,” he said.  

“I acknowledge that I’ve held men and women to different standards in sexual relationships. I’d like to say I’m a much different person than I was two years ago, and I have more to overcome.”

Walsh said she was telling her story to support the other women who had come forward with their own stories in recent months. The post had received more than 442 likes and 101 comments in less than 10 hours since it was posted Sunday.

“I am not the type of person who intentionally seeks to harm others or ask for attention, but at this point, I fear remaining silent is being complicit and protecting someone who is nothing but a danger to the women at USF,” Walsh said. 

“This is my truth, and I will not apologize for sharing it. What the world does with it is out of my hands now.”

Walsh’s accusations aren’t the first regarding Spangher’s alleged behavior. An anonymous person posted on the @usfconfessions Instagram account Feb. 13 describing Spangher’s behavior at parties.

“USF admin has been told about him, but they never did anything about his serial predatory behavior at parties, the things he says about women and his history for covering up things for his frat bros. I think students voting for him should know.”

In a comment on the post Feb. 13, Spangher recognized the occurrence of sexual misconduct on campus, but neither confirmed nor denied the allegations.

“While this post does not even refer to any victims or instance, my intention here is not to silence or discredit anyone,” he said. “However, this behavior does not align with … any of my personal values. I am aware that sexual assault is a big problem on campus and that is why we have a sexual assault education section in our platform, and I’d be happy to discuss this with anyone who may have any concerns.”

Another anonymous person posted Feb. 21 on the @SurvivorsUsf Twitter account about an encounter that happened three years ago in which Spangher allegedly “was being grabby and wouldn’t leave me alone.” 

“I don’t think he remembers but I’ve never been so scared in my life,” the post said. “I don’t even want to think what would’ve happened if I were any drunker than I was. It’s been three years and I still freeze up when I see him.”

The recent allegations led to the re-emergence of others posted in summer 2020. Back in July, the @SurvivorsUsf Twitter account posted a thread of tweets from anonymous sources about their interactions with Spangher in the past.

In response to Walsh’s letter, Spangher said he acknowledged the mistakes made in the past and emphasized how, over the course of two years, he has changed and “grown much from it.”

“I’ve spent the past two years reflecting on my first relationship, and I have come to realize how jealous I was at instances, and how toxic I might have come across,” Spangher said. “I made a lot of mistakes, like I would think a lot of people have in their first serious relationship, but I am not the same person as I was two years ago and have grown much from it.”

Debesay announced her withdrawal hours before Spangher, and said her decision was a necessity so she could maintain the integrity of her character and stay true to her values. 

“In light of recent events, it does not resonate well with me to knowingly run alongside a candidate that has hurt various people on campus,” she said. “The views expressed of my running mate are not in any way representative of myself, which is why I am making the decision to no longer be publicly associated.” 

With Spangher and Debesay’s withdrawals, Jaida Abbas and Jennifer Kelly, and Julia Cunningham and Jillian Wilson are the only tickets running in the presidential race. Both tickets will face off during the presidential and vice presidential debate Feb. 25 on Microsoft Teams from 6-9:30 p.m.

This is a developing story. Stay with The Oracle for more updates.