2021 in review: change as a constant
Before 2022 gets into full swing, The Hustler takes a look at some of 2021’s most notable headlines.
December 31, 2021
Editor’s note: This piece contains mention of gun violence and sexual assault.
If 2020 was the year of headlines, then 2021 was a year of stories continued.
Vanderbilt Athletics started the year off with multiple new hires to newly minted head coach Clark Lea’s staff. Casey Stangel was brought on as director of football operations, Barton Simmons as football general manager and David Raih as an offensive coordinator.
On Jan. 6, the Vanderbilt community watched alongside the rest of the country as rioters stormed Capitol Hill. Shortly thereafter, the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy held its first out of the panels they hosted throughout the year on topics such as politics of public health and finding congressional compromise. Some members of the Vanderbilt community criticized the project, stating that it fails to fully encompass unity.
Dores Divest impersonated Chancellor Daniel Diermeier’s email and called for the university’s divestment from fossil fuels. These demonstrations continued throughout the year; 2021 was not the year of divestment.
COVID-19 protocols continued to change student life in February. Testing increased to a mandatory twice weekly minimum and Vanderbilt Athletics amended the attendance policy for baseball games, only permitting players’ families to attend. The annual Lights on the Lawn music festival was also announced to be entirely virtual rather than its traditional Alumni Lawn location.
The Hustler said farewell to then-Provost Susan Wente on Feb. 3 as she transitioned to lead Wake Forest University as president. At the time, the Class of 2024 were also undergoing a housing transition as part of “The Flip” and had mixed reactions about the mid-year change.
Students pushed an initiative to bring boba to Vanderbilt’s campus with the creation of Vantea. At around the same time, they tried to find the perfect Valentine’s Day date using MarriagePact and DataMatch.
Meanwhile, one of the largest snowstorms to hit Nashville in five many years caused the testing center to close for two days and spurred dining changes, while the university worked to remove the snow and students took virtual classes. To accommodate these changes, students were given $20 a day from Feb. 17-19 to use at Taste of Nashville restaurants. The weather also postponed the start of the baseball season.
Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic enrollment were shown to be down by over 50% since 2020. Vanderbilt’s chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity was closed by the parent fraternity due to alleged policy violations.
Following up from their January email impersonation, Dores Divest held an over-30-person demonstration in front of Kirkland Hall featuring a unicorn.
In sports, Vanderbilt saw wins in men’s basketball, baseball and women’s soccer against Ole Miss, Georgia State and DePaul, respectively. Brett Hansen returned to the VandyBoys to pitch following a Church of Latter Day Saints mission trip. Speaking of wins, the Melodores also won second place in the largest collegiate a cappella championship in history.
It was announced that G.L. Black would succeed Mark Bandas as the Dean of Students, though the process was not completed until May.
OHARE announced that they would postpone the 2021-22 housing process and reinstated the pre-pandemic residential requirement. The Hustler also took a comprehensive look at some of Vanderbilt’s sustainability practices.
Eligible students were at last able to receive vaccinations in the city of Nashville, as the city moved into Phase 1c of its COVID-19 plan.. On March 8, the same day that these vaccinations were available, multiple students reported inconclusive, invalid or rejected COVID-19 tests from the Vanderbilt testing center.
Vanderbilt Athletics announced its expansion with the Vandy United campaign, a $300 million fund which will support major facility upgrades. Scotty Pippen Jr. was named first-team All-SEC, the first Vanderbilt player to receive the title since 2017. Also for the first time since 2017, Vanderbilt claimed an SEC Tournament win. A limited number of fans were also able to attend lacrosse and soccer games.
In baseball news, Hugh Fisher re-joined the VandyBoys following Tommy John surgery, and Jack Leiter threw a no-hitter in his first SEC game—only the fifth in program history. If not for the walk he gave up to the first batter he faced, he would have thrown a perfect game.
In March, the Vanderbilt community met the candidates for the 2021-22 VSG presidential election. Campaigning was paused and resumed amidst claims of campaign violations and discrimination. Students reacted to the unprecedented race as tickets dropped out, were written in and dropped out again. Ultimately, the tumultuous election season drew to close when Kayla Prowell and Hannah Bruns were elected. As the first female, Black pair to lead VSG, they have served the Vanderbilt community with an all-Black executive board ever since.
The Hustler obtained an email on March 27 from residential advisors stating that Carmichael Towers East would be torn down in the summer of 2021, a statement that was brought to life on July 31 when the building was safely imploded. Construction on Residential College B, Towers’ replacement, continues as of print.
March concluded with the Vanderbilt community learning that all in-person classes would be offered in Fall 2021, where they remained in person for the duration. The community also started an initiative to bring Asian American Studies to Vanderbilt’s campus that has yet to come to fruition.
The Music Room also highlighted some of Vanderbilts musical talent. Commodores also watched a lot of new television and film in March. First, they relived their childhood days with the Tom and Jerry reboot. Hit movies included Operation Varsity Blues, Minari, the Garfield Movie and Snyder’s cut of the Justice League.
Students began dressing for spring and having charcuterie picnics to enjoy the changing of the seasons. When they weren’t enjoying charcuterie picnics, students said goodbye to Two Old Hippies. The Hustler also featured several groups of siblings on campus.
VUMC began to vaccinate students starting in mid-April and finished their year-long project to rename Dixie Place to Vivien Thomas Way after Vivien Thomas, a Black VUMC pioneer in cardiovascular surgery. The university also started encouraging students to upload their vaccination records to their vaccination tracker.
On April 7, the Vanderbilt chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, DivestVU and Dores Divest jointly called for a boycott of Giving Day due to the university allegedly not meeting the organization’s needs. The Vanderbilt Lambda Association and VSG worked in tandem to address anti-transgender legislation that had been passed by the state of Tennessee in late March.
In Nashville, the classic Oxford Barber Shop relocated to Hillsboro Village, changing its name to Oxford in the Village. Vanderbilt was also featured as an up-and-coming wedding venue in the community. The university also did not renew its contract with Barnes & Noble, establishing the Vanderbilt Bookstore. Exit/In came under new building ownership yet remained a historic music venue for the city.
Over the course of two weeks, VUPD reported four crimes in the community, including two attempted kidnappings and two notifications of sexual assault. Another Vanderbilt Poll showed falling approval ratings for some elected officials, such as mayor John Cooper, in Davidson County.
On Earth Day, Dores Divest held an oil spill demonstration on Library Lawn. Students also demonstrated in greater Nashville in support of releasing the incarcerated activist Don Clemons, who has since been released. In the wake of increased hate crimes nationwide against the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community, Diermeier, Wente and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion André Churchwell released a supportive message to the Vanderbilt community following the attacks.
In lighter community news, Vanderbilt got to know its resident squirrel whisperer as well as some of The Hustler’s furry friends. A new class of Commodores was also accepted to the university, with the acceptance rate for the Class of 2025 being released as 6.7%, the lowest in Vanderbilt history.
Former women’s basketball coach Stephanie White was fired after five seasons of leading the team; she was replaced by Shea Ralph. Following the men’s basketball season, star Scotty Pippen Jr. declared for the 2021 NBA Draft, looking to follow in his father’s legendary footsteps. Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams exited their SEC tournaments on losses.
Following the March VSG presidential election, MLC leaders and other Black cultural organization leaders sought to have a new relationship with VSG. The Vanderbilt Lambda Association also advocated for more all-gender restrooms on campus following their April 30 demonstration for the cause.
On mother’s day weekend, a shooting at the Vanderbilt Holiday Inn. In terms of administration, C. Cybele Raver was appointed as the new provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as Wente assumed her position at Wake Forest. The university also announced a partnership with Climate Vault in an attempt to achieve carbon neutrality, which faced backlash from environmental organizations, including Dores Divest and DivestVU.
There was increased discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reports of acts of antisemitism in online spaces starting in May. VSG released a statement which prompted the creation of a petition as well. In June, Diermeier, Wente and Churchwell sent an email to the student body addressing hate crimes in the Jewish community.
The Vanderbilt community learned that COVID-19 vaccinations would be required for the Fall 2021 semester with religious and other exemptions. In light of these requirements, the university also lifted some COVID-19 restrictions for the fully-vaccinated. After living through three COVID-19-affected semesters, the Class of 2021 heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci virtually at their commencement on May 14, who advised them to lead by example in their post-college endeavors.
June began with a loss in the men’s NCAA golf quarterfinals but, just a few days later, saw track and field wins when Taiya Shelby placed 17th in the 400-meter race at the NCAA Championships in Oregon.
Although the VandyBoys did not secure their second consecutive College World Series, the games leading up to the final were filled with ups and downs. NC State—the favorites to win—was controversially eliminated in the semi-finals due to COVID-19 complications, propelling Vanderbilt to the finals. In the first game of the College World Series finals, The Hustler reported that racial slurs were allegedly used against parents of Vanderbilt players.
The Vanderbilt Works Union, LiUNA Local 368, announced that it would negotiate a new contract with the university by the end of 2021. After dynamic labor conditions throughout the semester, renegotiations for their three-year contract were ultimately completed and put into place on Nov. 15.
Increases in gun violence around the country led to increased conversations about gun safety on campus. In another facet of politics, the Spring 2021 Vanderbilt Poll revealed partisan differences on a myriad of issues, from the contemporaneous state of COVID-19 relief in Tennessee and the Black Lives Matter movement.
July began with tragedy, as Vanderbilt student Andreas Giannitsopoulos lost his life in the Champlain South Towers partial building collapse in Surfside, Florida. Giannitsopoulos would have graduated in May 2022. On July 10, nine days after the building collapse, a shooting occurred across from the Village at Vanderbilt. Out of over 100 shots fired that day, one took a Nashville resident’s life.
Students continued to protest against the university’s investment in fossil fuels, as members of Dores Divest and DivestVU met with administrators for the first time about the topic.
Although Vanderbilt Athletics regained one of their stars from the big leagues as Scotty Pippen Jr. withdrew from the 2021 NBA Draft to return to Vanderbilt, it lost others to the 2021 MLB Draft. Aces Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker were drafted No. 2 and No. 10 to the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, respectively. VandyBoys Luke Murphy, CJ Rodriguez, Hugh Fisher, Jayson Gonzalez and Dominic Keegan—who declined the New York Yankees’ offer and returned to Vanderbilt—were also drafted to MLB teams.
Besides the pros, Althea Thomas, former Georgia coach and LSU track and field champion, was named director of the track and field and cross country teams.
As temperatures rose, COVID-19 cases fell, the Class of 2024 were given a taste of normalcy with the debut of a “sophomore experience” and study abroad programs resumed for the 2021-22 school year. The David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center also underwent the final stages of its COVID-19 reopening plan as the testing center that it housed was downsized.
As Commodores returned to campus after a summer off, they were met with ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines. The delta variant caused masks to once again be required indoors. Nashville concert venues began requiring proof of vaccination to attend and Blair School of Music enforced COVID-19 restrictions for musicians. Dining halls also returned to 50% capacity and compostable products at the end of the month.
Speaking of dining, August brought more changes to Campus Dining, such as the announcement that Rand Dining Hall would be closed for dinner as well as on weekends, and The Pub and Local Java would be closed for the semester. However, dining halls reopened for in-person dining. Staff and food shortages continued to spur dining changes, such as students receiving $50 in Meal Money Aug. 24-29 and a one-time $15 Commodore Cash credit.
Also during the first week of classes, a Dores Divest silent protest featuring a giant unicorn interrupted the return of Founder’s Walk, a first-year tradition. A VSG initiative offering free menstrual products in some on-campus bathrooms was enacted at the beginning of the semester as well, aligning with the administration’s pact to make Vanderbilt more inclusive. The Hustler also reported that the United States Department of Agriculture had given VUMC a “critical” violation and an official warning for animal mistreatment in labs.
After being drafted to the Mets in July, Rocker did not sign with the team nor did he return to the VandyBoys. Junior outfielder Isaiah Thomas also announced that he would no longer be playing for the team due to mental health concerns. Lily Williams (‘16) and Matthias Schwab (‘17) competed in the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics—postponed a year due to COVID-19—with Williams taking home a bronze medal in cycling. Sophomore Ken Seals was also named starting quarterback for the football team.
COVID-19 hit campus hard at the beginning of September, with 122 community members testing positive between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4. During that week, students reported being unable to obtain rapid COVID-19 tests from the Student Health Center and nine students were unexpectedly sent to the Hayes Street Hotel to isolate. Vanderbilt launched their sentinel testing program at the end of the month, which will continue into Spring 2022.
U.S. News ranked Vanderbilt No. 14 for the second year straight on their 2022 Best Colleges list. On the same day, the university announced a $150 million, seven-year renovation plan of the Stevenson Center and the “Historic Core.”
Swipes for Cause repartnered with Campus Dining, although the program featured new changes. Dining complaints from students continued to mount in September causing modified hours and service flow and food trucks coming to campus.
Greater Nashville, however, upheld its status as a renowned foodie city with the addition of Condado’s Tacos, Barista Parlor and Parlor Doughnuts. Vanderbilt also partnered with five more restaurants as part of the Taste of Nashville.
The football team faced three disappointing losses in September, including a 23-3 deficit against Eastern Tennessee State University, a game slated to favor Vanderbilt. However, the Commodores won their first game since November 2019 against Colorado State on Sept. 11.
Other Vanderbilt teams found themselves reaping more success than Commodore football. Associate women’s bowling coach Josie Barnes won the bowling U.S. Open, the women’s golf team placed sixth at the Mason Rudolph Championship and four men’s tennis student-athletes made it to the quarterfinals at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association regionals.
Natural disasters hit the Southeast in September, including the Waverly, Tennessee, floods and Hurricane Ida. For both crises, Vanderbilt students raised funds and relief supplies for those affected. Gillette House was also evacuated due to sprinkler-system-induced floods, with some residents being forced to reside in the Hayes Street Hotel for nearly two weeks.
Music lovers were graced with three long-awaited albums from Kanye, Drake and Lil Nas X—“Donda,” “Certified Lover Boy” and “Montero,” respectively—which received mixed reviews from students. Also in pop culture, New York Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “tax the rich” Met Gala dress received strong reactions from the Vanderbilt community.
October was full of tricks and treats on campus, during which on-campus programming celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, APIDA Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Traditional in-person events, like the annual Lawson Lecture, continued to make a comeback, and Dores Divest held yet another protest. The Vanderbilt College Democrats and Republicans also debated the Green New Deal, an event characterized by heated discussion and partisanship.
Students continued to readjust to in-person learning and even found a silver lining of Campus Dining—Suzie’s Cafe. They also mourned the loss of Zack Freeling (‘17), co-founder of Aryeh’s Kitchen—an on-campus food truck—who was shot and killed in what is thought to be a homicide. There have been no updates on the shooting since his death.
In Greek Life news, Beta Theta Pi returned to campus after their 2015 disband. The Office of Greek Life also condemned off-campus, “fraternity-like” activities by former DKE brothers, about which the DKE and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) national fraternities released statements of similar disapproval.
Commodore football miraculously won their second game of the season in a nail-biter against the UConn on family weekend—their first home win since November 2019. Two weeks later, the team lost another close contest against South Carolina in the final two minutes of the game.
Pitbull made his way to Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 7, a concert that many students attended sporting bald caps. In the wake of the #FreeBritney movement, a judge ruled to remove Britney Spears’s father from her conservatorship. The conservatorship was eliminated completely on Nov. 12. Pop culture also saw the release of “Dune,” and The Hustler spoke with stars Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet about its production.
The Hustler reported that the Vanderbilt community had received six on-campus sexual assault notices in less than a month, causing some students to worry for their safety. Other students voiced concern over a “heartbeat bill” being passed in Texas and the availability of gender neutral bathrooms on campus, a metric in which The Hustler found Vanderbilt to trail peer institutions.
November marks Native American Heritage Month, and students celebrated and practiced giving thanks. In turn, a Munchie Mart worker and her husband expressed gratitude for the Vanderbilt community, which helped raise over $10,000 for them as their home was destroyed by a drunk driver.
The Hustler reported that Vanderbilt’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 endowment had risen to $10.93 billion. Money can’t buy everything, however, as the university fell victim to widespread phishing attacks on student accounts.
As three IFC fraternities faced suspension, Phi Delta Theta fraternity planned to return to campus in Spring 2022. The South Asian Cultural Exchange also held their semi-annual Diwali Showcase (TDS) for the first time since the pandemic began, this year with a Harry Potter theme..
Speaking of magic, the men’s club rowing team won men’s collegiate fours at the Head of the Charles Regatta—the world’s largest rowing event. The bowling team also got a taste of victory at the Dezy Strong Classic.
Football season slowly turned to basketball season, as Ralph had a promising start to her tenure as women’s basketball head coach with a near upset of then-No. 9 Arizona. The team broke even at .500 for November. Meanwhile, the men’s team only dropped one game during the month. Vanderbilt Athletics continued to specify their intentions for the Vandy United Campaign—which will break ground in Fall 2022—with renderings and details of each new facility. Athletics also announced all fans had to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test or of vaccination to enter Memorial Gymnasium.
COVID-19 loomed beyond the hardwood as well as VUMC began offering booster shots to eligible students and employees. Diermeier reflected on Vanderbilt’s handling of and role in preventing the pandemic in his book “A Year Like No Other,” which received criticism from some members of the Vanderbilt community.
Swifties fawned over Taylor Swift’s reimagined “Red (Taylor’s Version).” A day later, Bruno Mars and .Paak released “An Evening with Silk Sonic”—the perfect follow-up to Swift’s 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” While the world watched in horror as the Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas, left 10 dead, Surfaces’ concert in Nashville was luckily a “Good Day,” .
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump spoke to community members about his work, particularly in representing the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and racial discrimination nationwide. In a similar vein, The Hustler reported that Olivia Hill, a transgender Vanderbilt employee, filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging discrimination.
December was riddled with COVID-19 complications as the omicron variant became prevalent. The Hustler reported that a federal court ruling declared President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14042 unconstitutional, raising questions about Vanderbilt’s ability to mandate mask-wearing and vaccinations. As of print, booster shots are not required by the university. Ten days before the planned start of the Spring 2022 semester, classes and move-in were delayed a week and a new testing program was announced and the semester was extended a week. Classes remain in-person for the upcoming term as of print.
The day before the announcement regarding the Spring 2022 semester, the women’s basketball team’s SEC opener was postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks inside the Vanderbilt program. COVID-19 worked in the men’s basketball team’s favor, however, as they won the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day by default due to their opponent, Stanford University, experiencing COVID-19 complications.
Also in regards to the pandemic, the Fall 2021 Vanderbilt Poll revealed partisanship divides regarding vaccines, with fewer Tennessee Republicans reporting having received or planning to receive the COVID-19 vaccine compared to Tennessee Democrats. The poll brought the Texas “heartbeat bill” back to the headlines, demonstrating division among Republicans and Democrats about whether they want a similar law implemented in Tennessee.
A step in the right direction, global leaders met in-person for COP26 after last year’s virtual conference, and some Vanderbilt students and employees attended. In terms of climate science, Al Gore also endorsed Vanderbilt divesting from fossil fuels and the movie “Don’t Look Up” put a satirical twist on the climate crisis.
On the Saturday before finals week, Commodores were rudely awoken from their sleep by tornado sirens as Winter Storm Atticus hit the Southeast. As finals came to a close, the first round of early decision applicants were admitted to Vanderbilt’s Class of 2026, with a 24.1% acceptance rate.
With December came more dining complaints from students, a Bachelorette finale (#SoulNayte) and holiday celebrations. Students mourned the death of iconic fashion designer Virgil Abloh and celebrated the renewal of VandyBoys head coach Tim Corbin’s contract, whose legacy compares to that of Alabama’s Nick Saban and Patriots’ Bill Belichick. Winter break proved Marvel-themed, as students poured into theaters for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and caught up on the latest episode of “Hawkeye.”
We’re not sure if 2022 will be able to top these headlines (or if we can handle it if it does), but we’re looking forward to covering it all! See you next year.