An Open Letter to the Vanderbilt Community
TW: Sexual Assault, Racism, Homophobia
To the Vanderbilt University Administration,
The signing student media organizations stand in solidarity with those who bravely share their stories and speak up against the oppressive systems that affect their lives daily. We are horrified that Vanderbilt’s culture of complacency allows blatant displays of racism, misogyny, classism, and homophobia, among others, to pass without effective action. Furthermore, we are deeply disappointed by the administration’s unwillingness to directly address and act upon these issues.
The purpose of this statement therefore is three-fold. First, as Vanderbilt students, we demand that the Vanderbilt administration holds all perpetrators accountable. All Vanderbilt students have the right to physical, mental, and emotional safety within our Vanderbilt community, and it is the University’s responsibility to ensure these rights are upheld and not infringed upon by any policy, organization, faculty, staff, or peer.
Second, as student leaders, we condemn exclusion, misogyny, racism, elitism, sexism, homophobia and gender discrimination in all student organizations. We support the work done by other student-led movements to eliminate these prejudices on their campuses. To this end, we have listed action items below that support our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organizations.
Third, as student media leaders, it is our duty to be a transparent source of information for all Vanderbilt community members. As an entity independent from Vanderbilt University and protected by the First Amendment, it is our responsibility to present the truth, whatever form that may take. We strive to uplift the voices of the student body so that all students feel heard and respected by their peers. In addition to demonstrating our commitment to these action items, we have compiled resources to facilitate education and further action. Ignorance is never an excuse for allowing injustice to spread, and we accept our responsibility as media organizations to honestly and earnestly discuss the issues affecting our Vanderbilt community and beyond.
We are pledging the following action items to hold us, as student leaders, accountable for promoting inclusivity in campus organizations. Our intent is to both make student stories heard and to provide inclusive forums of dialogue.
1) Student media provides concrete avenues through which students can share their stories:
- The Vanderbilt Review, Vanderbilt’s undergraduate literary and arts magazine, accepts prose, poetry, and art for our print magazine and additionally supports creative multimedia projects on our online platforms throughout the year.
- Vanderbilt Video Productions offers equipment, a studio, training, guidance, and a platform through vandyflix.com for students to visually express themselves and create through film and television.
- WRVU Nashville, Vanderbilt’s free format radio station dedicated to underground and non-mainstream music, serves as a music source to our campus and greater Nashville community and offers training to all students interested in hosting their own radio show on our air, writing for our music blog, or creating their own podcasts.
- Vanderbilt Lives, Vanderbilt’s undergraduate creative nonfiction journal, stands to amplify student voices through its annual collection of nonfiction essays.
- VandyRadio, Vanderbilt’s online radio station and soundtrack of campus life, stands for giving all students a voice on campus.
- Vanderbilt Vanguard, Vanderbilt’s undergraduate STEM newspaper, stands to share student’s experiences in the scientific field and create an open, data-driven forum to discuss how science affects every aspect of our society.
2) Increase opportunities for participation
- The Vanderbilt Review has added an option for submission to our social media platforms as of the 2020/2021 academic year. This submission form evades the selective Editor review process that applies for our print magazine, which allows all appropriate submissions to be posted to our Website (vanderbiltreview.com) and Instagram (@thevanderbiltreview).
- Any student can create and share their stories with Vanderbilt Video Productions regardless of prior access to or knowledge of video production. We also take video submissions from all Vanderbilt students to be placed onto our streaming service, regardless if the piece was produced within the organization or not, to give your work a platform and place to be seen and heard.
- WRVU has created pathways through which students can become involved as staff writers for our blog without prior participation in WRVU or having completed training to become a DJ, which had previously been prerequisites. As we approach the upcoming school year we are also developing new opportunities for students to complete DJ training and broadcast their own shows through our stream on wrvu.org in remote and increasingly accessible ways.
- Vanderbilt Lives considers requests to publish anonymously in order to prevent retaliation against students who wish to speak out on issues such as racism, sexual assault, and abuse. The editorial board has also adopted inclusive review and revision guidelines that guarantee every author a reasonable chance to be published if they are willing to participate in the process. Finally, the board organizes storytelling and writing workshops that give all students the opportunity to hone their writing skills.
- VandyRadio has opportunities for any student to become a music show host, talk show host, and/or podcast creator. This opens the door for hosts to talk about the topics and issues that are most important to them, as well as share their music and interests with the general student body.
- Vanderbilt Vanguard welcomes all stories related to students’ experiences in STEM and STEM-related fields. We will focus on amplifying stories related to discriminatory practices (i.e., racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) in science by providing a constructive, open, and inclusive forum to discuss these issues and potential solutions. Articles can be submitted through our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and will be published on our website (vanderbiltvanguard.com).
3) Within organizations, students will hold each other accountable to create spaces that are conducive to open communication.
4) The signing organizations will include language in their charters that protects marginalized groups.
- There is a zero tolerance policy for hate speech.
- Bylaws will be public on AnchorLink, increasing transparency with the rest of our community and allowing us to be held accountable by our larger Vanderbilt community.
5) The signing organizations commit to increased communication between Student Media organizations for the purpose of uplifting the voices of the Vanderbilt community.
In addition to increasing communication between students, it is also our duty as media organizations to present Vanderbilt-related information to our entire community. We recognize that, especially in times where we are communicating primarily virtually, administrators are not fully aware of the news circulating on social media. We have, therefore, collected a non-exhaustive, although extensive, list of recent events affecting our Vanderbilt community. We would like to see Vanderbilt University publish a real plan of concrete action items, as the current response has not been transparent enough. This plan should include, but is not limited to, investigating the racist posts on GreekRank, the numerous sexual assault allegations made against the athletics department, and the harm that IFC and Panhellenic Greek Life has caused our community.
List of recent events harming our Vanderbilt community:
- Blatant racism on GreekRank website:
- Video of IFC Greek Life member shouting racial slur:
- Chronic harm of Greek Life, including but not limited to classism, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexual assault as exposed on a student-organized social platform:
- Sexual Assault allegations (Athletics Dept, Greek Life, etc.):
- Vague, ambiguous responses to important issues that we feel do not appropriately address Vanderbilt’s concrete plans for change:
- “The prevention and rejection of racism, sexism, sexual assault and homophobia have been the focus of education and reform within Greek organizations at Vanderbilt for several years.” Vanderbilt University Statement On Greek Life
- Wente & Lee’s Response to SA Allegations
- 7/7/2020 – Vanderbilt statement on ICE guidance regarding international students
- 7/10/2020 – Vanderbilt, peer institutions oppose new ICE guidance for international students, will file amicus brief
- 7/13/2020 – Vanderbilt & Peer Institutions Oppose New Visa Rules for International Students
For more background on the above instances, here are two additional resources:
We hope that in sharing our deep concern, pledging our commitment to a safer and more inclusive campus culture, and providing links to recent news in a single location, the Vanderbilt administration is better equipped to act with transparency and will promise students, faculty, and staff concrete and actionable items.
The Vanderbilt Review: Emily Kopec, Darius Cowan, Grace Brady, Laiba Fatima, Kelly Morgan, Catherine Sheehan, Amber Yun, Grace Billman
Vanderbilt Video Productions: Stacy Horton, Kimberly Onyekwe, Sam Bianco
Vanderbilt Vanguard: Minna Apostolova, Adrian Florea, Cassidy Johnson, Benjamin Wong, Shannon Yan
Vandy Radio: Ellie Hooey, Rayna Easley, Riley Alexander
Vanderbilt Lives: Alex Camai, Asia Grant, Neelansh Bute, Lindsay Quackenbush, Melanie Lu
WRVU: Ayden Eilmus, Brynn Demers, Alejandro Otero, Paige Warren, Emma Johnson, Stephanie Wang, John Darby, Annie Mullins, Taylor Lomax