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.

Vanderbilt College Democrats, Vanderbilt Lambda Association host Odessa Kelly

The Democratic nominee for the 7th district in Tennessee spoke to Vanderbilt students about the upcoming midterms, the VUMC’s gender affirming care controversy and Nashville politics.
Laura Vaughan
Kelly addresses the audience, captured on Oct. 20, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Laura Vaughan)

Democratic Congressional candidate for Tennessee’s 7th District Odessa Kelly spoke to Vanderbilt students on Oct. 20 in an event hosted by the Vanderbilt College Democrats and the Vanderbilt Lambda Association. Kelly focused on the upcoming midterm elections and touched on the recent controversy surrounding VUMC’s transgender clinic, denouncing her opponent Mark Green who visited campus on Sept. 12 for an event with the Vanderbilt College Republicans. Kelly is running against Republican incumbent Mark Green for Tennessee’s 7th District. Vanderbilt is currently in the 5th Congressional District represented by Democrat Jim Cooper, who will be retiring at the end of this term. However, the redistricting that was approved on Jan. 20 has led to Vanderbilt being moved into the 7th district and will be applied for the first time to this year’s midterm election. While she said she thinks Cooper is a “nice individual,” she believes Tennesseeans want to see change in representation.

“Right now people say ‘I know Cooper’ when they see his name on the ballot, but 40% voted against this man,” Kelly said. “That lets you know that the city wants something different.”

Kelly discussed her motivations for running for office, stating that her children were influential in her decision.

“I got kids and I am scared to death that 20 years from now they’re going to be like, ‘what did you do?’ And I don’t want to be stumbling over my words,” Kelly said. “I want to be able to look them straight in the eyes and tell them that I did everything that I could possibly do.”

Kelly stated her biggest obstacles in campaigning have been burnout and the racism she has felt from the LGBTQ+ community. She said she has not received any endorsement from the Victory Fund despite the group’s interest in progressive politics.

“I do not fit the demographics of what an establishment Democrat should look like, and I don’t want to,” Kelly said.

Kelly called Green—her Republican opponent—“racist” and “bigoted,” citing his claims against transgender people.

“He said that being trans is a clinical disease. That’s not okay,” Kelly said. “A man who went to West Point and is a trained doctor. West Point got to be embarrassed that he’s one of their graduates.”

She elaborated on this view by responding to the recent controversy surrounding conservative political commentator Matt Walsh’s claims against VUMC and its care toward transgender youth. She stated that she wants to see more Democrats elected to Congress so they could push to expand the Supreme Court and see more progressive decisions made.

“This country is big enough for everyone to be equitable and for everyone to have a good life,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately a lot of people don’t think that.”

Kelly urged students to vote and aid her campaign, before going on to describe her childhood growing up in the Nashville area. Kelly explained how community centers were a large part of her life, and she even went on to run the Napier Community Center for over 10 years. The 2008 recession forced Kelly to balance this role with another job, while also taking care of her two kids and her partner at the time.

“I was living check to check. I got all of this debt on top of me and in the community centers, I was on the front lines of poverty,” Kelly said. “When you see through an adult lens, you see all the barriers that public policy puts on top of you.

Kelly said she believes that Congress does not currently represent the American people. Kelly stated that, if elected, she would try to change this by advocating for affordable housing initiatives, the Green New Deal and ending poverty.

“96% of Congress was born with all the resources to jump any hurdle before they were born,” Kelly said. “And most of us are trying to get to a position where we ain’t got to want anything either, but we can get to those positions without oppressing people. Poverty is a construct.”

Kelly answers questions from students, captured on October 20, 2022.
Kelly answers questions from students, captured on October 20, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Laura Vaughan) (Laura Vaughan)

Kelly ended by speaking about how college students can help in her efforts to make change by advising them to pay attention to politics, hold elected officials accountable and put work into the issues they are passionate about.

“I can’t promise to get anything over the line, but I’m promising to fight like hell for it and try to make that the expected behavior,” Kelly said.

Senior Sydney Stewart said she was excited about Kelly’s consistent political stances and progressive nature.

“I think she has really great ideas and I like the fact that she’s a progressive Black woman,” Stewart said. “I think a lot of Black politicians will talk the talk, but they don’t actually hold onto their politics, so I really do appreciate that she actually does.”

Junior and VCD president Claire Reber said she appreciates Kelly’s devotion to the citizens of Nashville and is inspired by her activism.

“You can tell in just the way that she speaks how much she really cares about people in Nashville and I just think she’s such a great candidate,” Reber said. “We need more progressives out there fighting for us on the ground.”

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About the Contributors
Alison Winters
Alison Winters, Deputy News Editor
Alison Winters (‘25) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her at the movie theater, reading a good book or attending a concert in Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Laura Vaughan
Laura Vaughan, Senior Staff Photographer
Laura Vaughan (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science studying mathematics and economics. When not out on an assignment for The Hustler, she can be found studying in the Schulman Center, having lunch at Frutta Bowls or trying to clean her file structure. She is available at [email protected].
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