Students demand Zeppos declare Vanderbilt a “Sanctuary Campus” for undocumented immigrants

Zoe Shancer, Senior Editor

Exactly one year after Hidden Dores led 200 students in a march to Kirkland Hall to deliver a letter including a list of demands relating to diversity and inclusion to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, another group of students marched to Kirkland again with a different set of demands. The group, organized mainly by representatives from the Divinity School, demands that Vanderbilt become a “Sanctuary Campus” in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

This group staged a walkout at 12:30 p.m. and marched through campus before entering Kirkland. Zeppos was not in his office, because he was meeting with Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, so the group presented their list of demands to him over the phone, and then staged a sit-in in Kirkland. The group left Kirkland around 4:30 p.m. Student organizers set a deadline for Friday at 2 p.m. If Zeppos hasn’t approve the demands at that time, they will host another sit-in. 

The list of demands declares support for those “scapegoated by Trump.” The letter says, “We will defend the Muslim, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, undocumented, women, Jewish, and immigrant members of our community, and we will not let Trump or his white supremacist appointees separate us.”


The demonstration is part of a national movement organized by Movimiento Cosecha, an organization dedicated to building “Dignity, Respect, Permanent Protection for the immigrant community.” Students from around 80 schools across the country, including Stanford and NYU, protested with similar petitions today as part of the movement. While all of the students requested that their schools become a sanctuary campus, the definition of a Sanctuary Campus is not uniform–some students are asking for a general declaration of support, while others are asking for more, such as guarantees that schools won’t release students’ immigration statuses.

In relation to Trump’s immigration policies, the group made 5 demands to Chancellor Zeppos:

  1. Cut ties with all law enforcement agencies that collaborate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)
  2. Refuse law enforcement agencies who collaborate with ICE access to any Vanderbilt properties or information.
  3. Institute a policy prohibiting campus police from inquiring about immigration status, enforcing immigration laws, or participating with ICE/CBP in actions.
  4. Refuse to cooperate with any ‘registration’ system that seeks to target or surveil Muslims.
  5. Publicly declare Vanderbilt a Sanctuary Campus.

Junior Hamzah Raza, who participated in the march, says the group wants to protect students who are currently covered under an American immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who entered the country before the age of 16 and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit as well as exemption from deportation.

“Things such as Muslim registration and deporting our undocumented students is against our values as an institution and as a progressive movement.”

-Shawn Reilly

“Donald Trump said on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated, he will get rid of DACA,” Raza said. “So what a lot of cities and college campuses are doing are making what’s called ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ and saying the students … are safe in case this were to happen, because they’re an integral part of our country.”

Senior Shawn Reilly, who participated in the protest, said that when the protesters read the list of demands to Zeppos over the phone, they urged him to accept them. Zeppos responded that he will review the demands and have a conversation with students about them.

“But to us, it is kind of black and white,” Reilly said. “Things such as Muslim registration and deporting our undocumented students is against our values as an institution and as a progressive movement.”

Students participating in the sit-in called the mayor’s office one after the other to deliver the message that the group was waiting outside Zeppos’ office, and would wait until he returned. 


“We basically told him, Megan Barry doesn’t go to school here, Megan Barry doesn’t pay tuition, your job as chancellor is to represent the interests of students, not to go around meeting with the mayor of Nashville, so when hundreds of students are occupying your office, it’s ridiculous that he’s not here,” Raza said.

In regard to how long the protesters will stay in Kirkland, Reilly responded, “We are waiting here until he says yes.”

Maddie Brown contributed to this report. This story will be updated as it develops. Video by Sophie Jeong of VTV News.