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Pro-Palestinian student protestors at Vanderbilt face punishment and expulsion


April 15th, 2024

By: Mariana Prieto

Editor: Fabiha Khanam

New York–A few weeks ago, roughly two dozen students at Vanderbilt University staged a 24-hour sit-in of the school’s Kirkland building, while another 30 blocked the outside steps. This was in response to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions(BDS) petition being put down by Vanderbilt’s administration, who backed their actions by citing “federal and state laws” meant to prevent boycotts of “countries friendly to the United States”. The student population had heavily supported this petition, as it called for a change to the Vanderbilt Student Government Constitution, “to prevent the Vanderbilt Student Government from purchasing goods or services from companies identified as “complicit” in Israel’s violence in Gaza and Palestine.” The BDS petition was created by the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition(VDC). It had garnered over 600 signatures, making it eligible for a student ballot.

 The decision by the administration also caused a nonprofit law center, Palestine Legal, to send a cease-and-desist letter to Vanderbilt. This letter accused Vanderbilt of infringing students’ right to free speech and association.

The group that had made their way into the Kirkland building reportedly forced their way in, Vanderbilt released footage of students pushing past an officer. However, students have come out and said that the blurring of the students’ faces in the video hid how one student was dragged by the neck. 

The pro-Palestine sit-in went differently than others as described by a sophomore at Vanderbilt, Ezri Tyler, “Normally how sit-ins work is that either the administration speaks to the students or they remove students pretty quickly. Instead, they left us in there for 21 hours; they restricted our access to food, water, and bathrooms. Students were having to pee in bottles and bags. It was completely dehumanizing.”

From the sit-in, Vanderbilt University expelled three, suspended one, and 22 were put on probation. This has hindered their education since nearly 30 students were prevented from attending classes for two weeks. There have also been reports of Muslim or known pro-Palestine students being stopped on campus by officers and questioned about their involvement with the VDC.

 In response to the punishment, over 150 faculty signed a letter to the administration calling for the students to return to campus and describing the school’s efforts to suppress protests specifically regarding Israel’s genocide in Palestine. Faculty wrote, “We are concerned that these rules seem arbitrary, shifting, and unevenly applied to student activists and other community members. We also contend that the criterion that student protests must not ‘disrupt’ university operations is perniciously vague and expansive.”

Vanderbilt University has a history of student suppression, dating back to the civil rights era and another expulsion in the 1960s, this one of James Lawson for participating in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. Chancellor Diermier of Vanderbilt is a right-wing figure with previous instances of student suppression, going as far as to justify those actions in an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal. He has recently faced heavy criticism from the public for Vanderbilt’s punishment of the students. 

These attacks on pro-Palestine students have spread to other schools, such as Pomona College and Columbia University, which both also suspended student protestors. 

Fabiha Khanam, director of the Media Relations team at TPF, remarks “ Peaceful student protests, sit-ins, encampments, should be listened to and honored without repercussions of violence or suspension. Students are implementing their first amendment rights to assemble and use their freedom of speech. Vanderbints inability to respect their students' first  amendment rights is an injustice”.  



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