Vanderbilt Students Protest Suppression

Students protest outside Kirkland Hall for a VSG BDS amendment vote, as photographed on March 26, 2024. (Image and caption source: Savannah Walske / The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Last Tuesday, March 26, police arrested four students and as many as twenty more were suspended on the campus of Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University after they occupied the university’s main hall for twenty-two hours. A local reporter was also arrested.

Right-wing media outlets (see any recent coverage by Fox News) are mocking the protesters, painting the events as another example of so-called privileged students misbehaving rather than learning, and calling for strong punishments for protesters. But the protest that some of their reports are calling “rowdy” – and many far less polite words in their comment sections – was a justified and measured response to direct administration suppression of their right to free speech.

Student organizers organized on campus for months to get the Vanderbilt Student Government to vote on a resolution banning the use of student government funds from going to businesses that support Israel. They had over 600 signatures, which was far more than required by the student government to have a question brought to a vote. The vote was set to take place. But early last week the university administration unilaterally removed the question from a ballot that students were to use for the vote. This was direct administration intrusion into the domain of the student government, which had followed both their own rules and the rules of the university. The students organized a protest of the unwarranted interference.

The next day, a few dozen protesters arrived at Kirkland Hall, the campus’s main building. A dozen students approached a security guard, demanded to be let in, and, when the security guard refused, they pushed the guard back and pushed their way into the building. From the one available video of the event, it seems clear that they in no way attempted to hurt the guard, and do not appear to have done so. They simply made sure they got into the building to begin their occupation, and they did so without any of the brutal violence and vitriol that characterized (to take just one example) the January 6 attack.

Often we are forced to listen to so-called authorities who apologize for, defend, and profit from the status quo. Whether politicians, media outlets, universities, or the corporations and 1% that finance all of them, these forces cannot be allowed to drown us out or shut us down.

We support the rights of all students to protest Israel’s genocidal policies in Palestine. Young people who are learning about the realities of the world have every right to demand change, just as all working people have that right. And if we choose to exercise that right in an organized fashion, we have the ability to change the world.