The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

VPR deletes, responds to op-ed questioning Chinese international students in America

A Vanderbilt Political Review op-ed entitled “What Do We Gain from Allowing Chinese Espionage?” from April was removed this week following student responses

Vanderbilt Political Review (VPR) removed an op-ed from their website that was titled “What Do We Gain from Allowing Chinese Espionage” Sept. 10. The editorial decision to remove the piece followed what they called “strong responses” from the Vanderbilt community, particularly from international students. 

The op-ed, written by two VPR contributors and published on April 8, took the position that the United States must stop allowing “the wholesale import” of Chinese nationals into American educational institutions purportedly because students are a known form of Chinese espionage. The piece did not make reference to Vanderbilt, but rather called for increased visa screening particularly for students interested in research or STEM fields. 

The piece was published on VPR’s website in April under the previous editorial board; however, it was not removed until Sept. 10. The editorial board released a statement Sept. 11 objecting to the “discriminatory rhetoric” of the article. VPR shared the statement on Facebook, with a caption labeling the op-ed as “controversial.” 

President of the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Chinese Association Viola Zhou said that VUCA is working with the Asian American Student Association and the Vanderbilt University Chinese Student and Scholar Association on a public letter denouncing the views expressed in the article, which she said will be released soon. 

“As an organization, we’re strongly dismayed by the article published by VPR,” Zhou told The Hustler in an email. “The article contains racist comments and false accusations that reinforce negative stereotypes about Chinese international students. Many international students have voiced their concerns on social media.”

Yilun Zhao, who graduated from Vanderbilt in May, saw the article two days ago, when another Chinese student shared it on social media. He wrote to The Hustler that, although he has seen hurtful comments about “Chinese espionage” before, he was shocked that they were coming from a Vanderbilt student. He said that he feels as though the inattention the piece received at first was indicative of a double standard at Vanderbilt, and imagines that the piece would not have remained unnoticed had it addressed a group other than Chinese international students. 

“The language is undoubtedly discriminatory and derogatory. Controversial is too light a word to describe it. The whole piece was filled with fallacious statements and generalizations lacking any type of factual support,” Yilun Zhao said. “I think the characterization of the piece matters a lot because that determines the response system. Controversial pieces should be tolerated under the freedom of speech, but an intentional defamation to an entire group of students on campus should not.”

VPR’s statement included a quote from the piece’s authors, who remain on the publication’s staff. 

Controversial pieces should be tolerated under the freedom of speech, but an intentional defamation to an entire group of students on campus should not

— Yilun Zhao, Class of '19

“Our thought process stemmed from various articles and op-eds published in mainstream media sources at the time and discussion in the White House. We recognize upon further discussion with members of our campus that the tone and rhetoric of the piece is unnecessarily abrasive and we wholeheartedly apologize.”

The board stated that they would welcome the writers to write about the topic again with “greater sensitivity” to language and invited the Vanderbilt community to submit their responses and thoughts on the topic to the editorial board. 

The published op-ed included an “Editor’s Choice” icon on the top. According to VPR Editor in Chief Grace Adcox, this is a publishing feature that writers can choose to include when publishing their own stories and that no editor encouraged the designation. Adcox told The Hustler that the VPR editorial board is now revisiting their editing process to ensure they have more safeguards for op-eds. 

The editorial staff’s statement elaborated that the decision to remove the piece was not taken lightly, and the staff intends to look into the “circumstances of the article’s publication.” The editorial staff also noted that while they agree that the language and tone of the article was discriminatory, they want to emphasize the importance of freedom of speech. 

“If we cannot engage in open conversations with people whose beliefs and perceptions conflict with our own on campus, then we can never expect to solve the world’s most pressing problems in a much more complex and interconnected society,” the VPR editorial board wrote in the statement.

In the days since reading the article and seeing the response from VPR, Zhao said he has been outraged by the attitude of the VPR editorial board and the lack of response from administration. Moving forward, Zhao said he wants to see more action on the part of VPR and the Vanderbilt community. 

“I would like to have more voices of Chinese international students heard,” Zhao said. “I’d also like to see support from the university, especially during this time when the media portrayal of Chinese students is biased and malicious.”

View comments (5)
About the Contributors
Sam Zern, Former Managing Editor

Sam Zern ('20) has been a member of The Vanderbilt Hustler since her freshman year, first as a staff writer and shortly after as assistant campus editor. She went on to be campus editor and, later, editor in chief. In her senior year at Vanderbilt, Sam was managing editor and streamlined recruitment and training processes.

In her time as a member of the editorial board, she has prioritized diversity and breadth in coverage, wanting to make sure as much of Vanderbilt as possible is represented in the paper. Outside of The Hustler, she studies education policy and sociology and has worked as a journalist for local publications in Austin and Nashville. She plans to pursue a career in journalism (and will gladly take any and all advice!)

Connect with Sam: [email protected] Personal website Twitter LinkedIn

Rachel Friedman, Former Editor in Chief
Rachel Friedman was a student in the College of Arts & Science who studied history and mathematics. Before serving as Editor in Chief, Rachel was the Campus Editor of The Hustler. You can reach her at [email protected].
More to Discover

Comments (5)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
All The Vanderbilt Hustler picks Reader picks Sort: Newest
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

The Original article should be preserved. If it is indeedly an imaginatively discriminatory discourse, then the author of which can be harshly criticized and remembered by the whole community in prevention of the production of future biases like this. If the article was sufficiently based on facts and logically correct reasonings, then we should see it as an argument rather than a pure ad hominem attack.

Maggie Yan
4 years ago

The issue is not freedom of expression or censorship, but double standards on the part of VPR, the media and American public discourse in general. Can anyone publish an article calling for stopping the “whole import” of African students on suspicion of bringing in Ebola? or of Muslim students on suspicion of bringing terrorism? Trump gets plenty of criticism for his wholesale painting of Mexican immigrants as rapists and gang members – but nobody says those criticisms stifle freedom speech and induce censorship. So why singling out Chinese students? Is it because they are perceived as meek and quiet?

Michael Borich
4 years ago

As a journalism instructor at a state university, we teach student journalists to be sensitive to diversity issues; over 750 Chinese students attend our university, almost half of the 1500 International students. But we also teach our students to pursue the facts and present them fairly and in a balanced manner with all sides represented. Unfortunately, with the opinion piece removed and unavailable for analysis or discussion, public discourse has been limited. What might have been a useful teaching tool seems to have become yet another example of the editorial thought police avoidance of significant and timely issues; the approach or slant might have offended some — others might have thought more deeply about the issue, but with the original op-ed vanished, readers will never know. The journalistic world beyond the shelter of campus political correctness is not so protective of readers or interest groups.

Raymond Kistler
4 years ago

Too bad. Censorship in the name of current political-correctness has never served either side well. Can you imagine in 1965 not having the discussion on campus of integration because a number of student white-nationalists were offended? Or not discussing BDS is seen by a few as anti-Semitic today? The discussion should be healthy on a University campus and a common understanding based on facts could unfold thru such discourse. I hope the Hustler doesn’t continue to fold every time someone doesn’t want the discussion which many more believe should be happening.

Roger Scott
4 years ago

Yet one more example of censorship and hyper-vigilant enforcement of the Vanderbilt echo chamber mentality.

If you don’t like something – post an opposing op-ed. Don’t remove it and arbitrarily claim that it’s racist and inflammatory. Is it? Who knows! You removed it without letting anyone read it.

I have an incredibly hard time believing that it was though, considering it sat there for 6 months without anyone noticing.

What’s up with people getting all hot and bothered about skeletons we dig out of our browser histories these days? Do people not have anything better to do with their time other than crying over spilled milk?

I thought we came to college to learn, expand our horizons, experience DIFFERING viewpoints, and develop the ability to work with others who think differently than ourselves. Turns out that doesn’t apply at Vanderbilt, apparently.