Vanderbilt University suspends anti-Zionist protesters after building takeover, multiple arrests made

Video footage of their demonstration shows them verbally abusing a black officer, whom they accused of betraying his racial identity.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has suspended over a dozen students belonging to an anti-Zionist group that occupied an administrative building and refused to leave, according to the school’s official newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler.

On Tuesday, the group “Divest Coalition” amassed inside Kirkland Hall, where its members clamored for administrators to reverse its cancellation of a referendum that, if passed, would have allowed the Vanderbilt Student Government to boycott companies linked to Israel.

According to The Hustler, administrators made the decision based on the measure’s potential to jeopardize the school’s eligibility for being awarded state contracts, which nonprofits and businesses participating in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel are, per state law, barred from receiving.

The day saw bitter exchanges of words between the students and campus officials. Video footage of their demonstration shows them verbally abusing a black officer, whom they accused of betraying his racial identity.

“Shame on you!” they shouted at him. Someone else said, “You are black in America, and you’re not standing with the marginalized people of the world. What does that make you?”

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Another student told the officer that he should take their side because America is committing a genocide of Black Americans, insinuating that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians.

Vanderbilt University commented on the matter to The Hustler, explaining that several students “assaulted a Community Service Officer to gain entrance” into Kirkland Hall and “pushed” officials who suggested having a meeting to discuss their concerns.

The school paper also reported other disturbing conduct that took place inside the building, including that students relieved themselves in plastic bottles and a young woman removed a sanitary product from her undergarments after claiming that she had exhibited “early symptoms of toxic shock syndrome.”

The students have alleged that they are victims of “inhumane treatment.”

At least 16 students have been suspended from school over the incident, a disciplinary sanction which proscribes being on campus — in residence halls or class — for any reason. Failure to comply with the punishment may result in being trespassed and arrested.

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“Student Affairs took a gradual approach to de-escalate the situation,” Vanderbilt University said in a statement shared with The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “After the students refused to leave, staff made them aware their actions violated university policy and that they would be subject to disciplinary action. After several hours, the university began issuing interim suspensions. Students on interim suspension must leave campus immediately and may not return until further notice, pending the Student Affairs review process.”

The university added that “free expression is a core value at Vanderbilt, as is civil discourse.” It continued: “Dozens of peaceful demonstrations have occurred over the past several months. In consideration of safety and the university’s normal operations, we, as a matter of policy, define time, place, and manner limitations. The safety and well-being of our community is a top priority. The university will take action when our policies are violated, the safety of our campus is jeopardized, and when people intimidate or injure members of our community.”

Vanderbilt University has sent The Algemeiner an additional statement describing the disciplinary sanctions it has levied against the demonstrators. It said that all who participated in the “sit in” are suspended and that three others have been charged with misdemeanor assault for shoving building officials. A fourth who shattered a window was charged with vandalism.

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In a statement posted to Instagram, Divest Coalition accused the university of abuse and violating their rights.

“Vanderbilt University has arrested 4 students and suspended over 16 students after harassing, assaulting, abusing them for trying to exercise their free speech rights to advocate for Palestine,” the group said on Wednesday. “Two students have been released, two more are still in jail waiting to be released — all 4 have unjust charges that they will be fighting in court.”

In the statement, Divest Coalition admitted that students relieved themselves in public and attached a photograph of their excretions and other waste.

Vanderbilt University is not the first school to be forced to arrest anti-Zionist protesters for breaking school rules.

In December, dozens of anti-Zionist protesters at Brown University were arrested by campus police for staging an unauthorized protest inside the University Hall administrative building. While being removed from the building, they shouted, “Shame on Brown! Shame on Brown!”