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

Pamphlets left around campus accuse Vanderbilt of ‘fascism’ due to VUMC’s transgender health care

The university is in the process of removing the pamphlets, which criticize Vanderbilt’s freedom of speech policies and include an image of Adolf Hitler.

Pamphlets+outside+the+lobby+of+Zeppos+College%2C+as+photographed+on+Dec.+6%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Staff%2FKatherine+Oung%29

Katherine Oung

Pamphlets outside the lobby of Zeppos College, as photographed on Dec. 6, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)

Katherine Oung, Managing Editor

Stacks of newspaper-style pamphlets condemning the university’s freedom of speech policies and VUMC’s transgender health clinic were left on the porches of houses in the West End Neighborhood, in the Zeppos College lobby, outside Morgan House and in the Starbucks on West End Avenue on the morning of Dec. 6.

The pamphlets were left by unknown individuals and are attributed to “America Hating Universities,” a campaign of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a self-identified conservative and anti-Islam nonprofit organization based in California that “combats the radical left.” The pamphlets accuse Vanderbilt and peer institutions of “on campus fascism” and include an image of and quote from Adolf Hitler. 

Comparing anything that happens on our campus—or the other U.S. universities mentioned in the pamphlet—with the regime that committed these atrocities, is an insult to the victims of Nazism.”

— Alexander Joskowicz

In a Dec. 7 press release sent to The Hustler, Lonny Leitner, director of special programs at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, stated that the organization engaged in a “stealth campaign” to distribute 2,500 copies of the pamphlet across campus. 

In addition to the aforementioned locations, the press release stated that the pamphlets were dropped off in “classroom buildings, dining facilities, student centers and distribution boxes” for The Hustler. However, there are no distribution racks specific to The Hustler on campus, as it has not been published in print since 2015. Furthermore, distribution racks of Vanderbilt Student Communications—of which The Hustler is a part—are not permitted to be used by external publications without VSC’s approval. The Hustler was unable to independently verify the information in the press release. 

A university representative stated in a Dec. 6 email to The Hustler that the university is in the process of collecting and removing the pamphlets because they violate Vanderbilt’s Communication and Promotion and Freedom of Expression policies. The representative added that the university is also “reviewing the documents” to determine who may have distributed them.

Although Vanderbilt and VUMC are legally separate entities, the pamphlets allege that the gender-affirming care provided by the VUMC contributes to Vanderbilt University being “fascist.” Vanderbilt and Nashville have received national attention after conservative political commentator Matt Walsh criticized the VUMC’s transgender health clinic and held a rally in support of this view. Gov. Bill Lee subsequently called for an investigation of the clinic’s pediatric gender-affirming healthcare services on Sept. 21.

The pamphlets further claim that Vanderbilt is stifling conservative free speech due to its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policies and student protest guidelines delineated in the Student Handbook. They do not cite specific examples of community members’ speech being curtailed. The pamphlets also feature an image and quote from Adolf Hitler digitally superimposed in front of an image of Stambaugh House, with quotes from a VUMC doctor and the Vanderbilt Community Creed bordering the graphic. 

Professor of Jewish studies Alexander Joskowicz deemed the pamphlets’ comparison of the university to fascism and Nazism to be inaccurate and offensive.

“It is not acceptable to invoke Nazism, a genocidal regime, just to grab attention for your agenda,” Joskowicz said in an email to The Hustler. “Comparing anything that happens on our campus—or the other U.S. universities mentioned in the pamphlet—with the regime that committed these atrocities, is an insult to the victims of Nazism.” 

President of Vanderbilt’s Tau chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and VSG Vice President Ari Sasson, a junior, stated that he saw a stack of the pamphlets on the patio of the AEPi house, his place of residence, at approximately 11 a.m. CST on Dec. 6. Sasson also reported seeing stacks of the same pamphlets in front of “nearly every house” in the West End Neighborhood that morning, including those of Vanderbilt’s chapters of Zeta Beta Tau, Zeta Tau Alpha, Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Tau Omega, as well as those of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Community Space

Panhellenic Council President Jenn Kong, NPHC President Jaren Pierre and Interfraternity Council President Ben Powdermaker—all seniors—confirmed that pamphlets were dropped off at the house(s) of their organizations. Kong and Pierre condemned the messages in the pamphlets. Sasson and Pierre said they disposed of pamphlets that they found in the West End Neighborhood. 

“We are a council that promotes unity, love, and support,” Pierre said in a message to The Hustler.

Senior Safa Shahzad, president of the Multicultural Leadership Council—which conducts programming in the MCS—said the MLC does not condone the pamphlets and remains steadfast in its support of transgender healthcare.

“The picture of Hitler is extremely disturbing, as the image of a racist, antisemitic, ableist, homophobic figure being left outside the MCS stands against everything we stand for,” Shahzad said. “It is disgusting that students and organizations are being targeted.”

Sasson stated that seeing this imagery also immediately generated concern for him, citing a “sense of fear” among the Vanderbilt Jewish community, especially in light of heightened antisemitism across the country this fall. In August, antisemitic fliers were left on the driveways of a West Nashville neighborhood. Prominent rapper Ye has also come under fire for making numerous antisemitic and otherwise discriminatory remarks, and Vanderbilt Football’s defensive backs coach Dan Jackson stepped back from the football program in November after supporting Ye on social media. 

Sasson said he believes the creators of the pamphlet utilized the imagery of Hitler for shock value, which he found to be problematic. 

“It definitely hit very close to home,” Sasson said. “Let’s assume that this newspaper really only cares about ‘fascism,’…I want to give the authors and the distributors of this the benefit of the doubt they’re not necessarily inciting antisemitism, but you can’t use Hitler in a publication and expect it to be received well by the Jewish community.”

Conservative activist Chris Elston protesting outside of Rand, as photographed on Nov. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Sasson and Hidden ‘Dores President Indu Kumar, a junior, expressed concern about the safety of Vanderbilt’s LGBTQ+ community amid the presence of non-Vanderbilt affiliated protestors and printed materials being found on campus. 

On Nov. 8, Canadian conservative activist Chris Elston, known as “Billboard Chris,” traveled to Nashville to stand in front of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and Rand Wall, attempting to speak with passersby about his opposition to gender-affirming care. Sasson claimed Elston was “intimidating” transgender students while he was on campus. In their Dec. 6 email to The Hustler, the university representative stated that non-affiliated persons are “generally not permitted” to demonstrate on campus and are asked to move to a public space if found to be doing so. 

In response to the pamphlets’ distribution, Sasson suggested that the university should increase police presence on campus and further acknowledge the public’s perception of the VUMC and Vanderbilt University as connected, despite being separate legal entities. 

“The fact is, the first two words in the medical center’s name is Vanderbilt University. A random person is not going to understand that there’s a difference,” Sasson said. “The word Vanderbilt means the entire Vanderbilt community regardless of what that the legal papers and the financial records say.”

If there’s anyone who needs their voices heard, it’s those advocating for change, not those who claim their prejudiced and harmful beliefs are being attacked in an imaginary culture war.”

— Indu Kumar

Kumar stated that the university should provide LGBTQ+ students with the option to request safety escorts and transportation to LGBTQ+-related events on and off campus, as well as do more to protect the free speech rights of student protestors.

“Students who wish to change campus policy in a positive manner end up being harrassed and punished by the school,” Kumar said. “If there’s anyone who needs their voices heard, it’s those advocating for change, not those who claim their prejudiced and harmful beliefs are being attacked in an imaginary culture war.” 

The Vanderbilt College Republicans and the Vanderbilt Lambda Association did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s requests for comments.

Rachael Perrotta contributed reporting to this piece.

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About the Contributors
Photo of Katherine Oung
Katherine Oung, Managing Editor

Katherine Oung ('25) is majoring in political science and computer science, as well as minoring in data science, in the College of Arts and Science. They were previously deputy news editor and are from West Palm Beach, Florida. Katherine enjoys working on freelance journalism and making incredibly specific Spotify playlists. They can be reached at [email protected]

Photo of Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Deputy News Editor

Brina Ratangee ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys solving trivia/crosswords, playing the violin and spending time with friends. You can reach her at [email protected]

Photo of Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Photography Director

Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected]

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