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

Peabody EDI Office responds to MSU shooting with email written using ChatGPT

The email stated at the bottom that it had been written using ChatGPT, an AI text generator.
The+Peabody+Administration+building%2C+captured+on+Oct.+24%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FClaire+Gatlin%29
Claire Gatlin
The Peabody Administration building, captured on Oct. 24, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Claire Gatlin)

UPDATED: This piece was updated on Feb. 17, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. CST to include an apology from the EDI Office. It was further updated on Feb. 17, 2023, at 9:05 p.m. CST to include a statement from the university about its use of AI in generating messages.

CORRECTED: This piece was corrected on Feb. 21, 2023, at 4:45 p.m. CST to correctly attribute a quote to Bethanie Stauffer that Laith Kayat originally told The Hustler was his words. 

A note at the bottom of a Feb. 16 email from the Peabody Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion regarding the recent shooting at Michigan State University stated that the message had been written using ChatGPT, an AI text generator.

Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Nicole Joseph sent a follow-up, apology email to the Peabody community on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. CST. She stated using ChatGPT to write the initial email was poor judgment.

While we believe in the message of inclusivity expressed in the email, using ChatGPT to generate communications on behalf of our community in a time of sorrow and in response to a tragedy contradicts the values that characterize Peabody College,” the follow-up email reads. “As with all new technologies that affect higher education, this moment gives us all an opportunity to reflect on what we know and what we still must learn about AI.” 

Screenshot of email sent by the Peabody EDI Office on Feb. 15, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)
Screenshot of the initial email sent by the Peabody EDI Office as taken on Feb. 17, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

The initial email emphasizes the importance of maintaining safe and inclusive environments amid ongoing gun violence across the country. It states that “respect” and “understanding” are necessary for doing so. 

“We must recognize that creating a safe and inclusive environment is an ongoing process that requires ongoing effort and commitment,” the initial email reads. “We must continue to engage in conversations about how we can do better, learn from our mistakes, and work together to build a stronger, more inclusive community.”

The body of the initial email mentions “Peabody” once and does not use any other Vanderbilt-specific terms. It also refers to multiple “recent Michigan shootings”; however, only one incident occurred. 

Laith Kayat, a senior, is from Michigan, and his younger sister attends MSU. He stated that the EDI Office’s use of ChatGPT in drafting its email is “disgusting,” a sentiment that Bethanie Stauffer (’22) emphasized.

There is a sick and twisted irony to making a computer write your message about community and togetherness because you can’t be bothered to reflect on it yourself,” Stauffer said. 

Kayat called on Vanderbilt administrators to take more action in preventing gun violence and to be more intentional with these actions. 

“Deans, provosts, and the chancellor: Do more. Do anything. And lead us into a better future with genuine, human empathy, not a robot,” Kayat said. “[Administrators] only care about perception and their institutional politics of saving face.”

Senior Jackson Davis, a Peabody undergraduate, said he was disappointed that the EDI Office allegedly used ChatGPT to write its response to the shooting. He stated that doing so is in line with actions by university administrations nationwide.

“They release milquetoast, mealymouthed statements that really say nothing whenever an issue arises on or off campus with real political and moral stakes,” Davis said. “I consider this more of a mask-off moment than any sort of revelation about the disingenuous nature of academic bureaucracy.”

Samuel Lu, a sophomore and another Peabody student, stated that this use of ChatGPT is disrespectful to gun violence victims. Like Davis, he stated that he was disappointed in Peabody’s actions.

“It’s hard to take a message seriously when I know that the sender didn’t even take the time to put their genuine thoughts and feelings into words,” Lu said. “In times of tragedies such as this, we need more, not less humanity.”

Vice Provost and Dean of Students G. L. Black also sent an email to students on Feb. 14 regarding the shooting. His email did not include a note regarding ChatGPT. The university did not yet respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about whether ChatGPT has been used to generate other university statements.

OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, launched a free, online tool to distinguish human-generated and AI-generated text on Jan. 31. The tool labels text as either very unlikely, unlikely, unclear if it is, possibly or likely AI-generated. The body of the EDI Office’s initial email was rated as likely AI-generated by this tool when tested by The Hustler, while Black’s email was rated as unlikely AI-generated, and Joseph’s apology email was rated as very unlikely AI-generated. However, OpenAI warns that this tool is not always accurate and correctly identifies AI-generated text as likely AI-generated 26% of the time. 

There is a sick and twisted irony to making a computer write your message about community and togetherness because you can’t be bothered to reflect on it yourself.

— Bethanie Stauffer ('22)

Joseph Sexton, also a senior and a Peabody student, questioned in what other contexts the university would use ChatGPT to generate messages. 

“Would they do this also for the death of a student, faculty, or staff member?” Sexton said. “Automating messages on grief and crisis is the most on-the-nose, explicit recognition that we as students are more customers than a community to the Vanderbilt administration. The fact it’s from the office of EDI might be the cherry on top.”

In a message to The Hustler, a university spokesperson said the university does not use ChatGPT or other AI systems to generate messages.

“We believe all communication must be developed in a thoughtful manner that aligns with the university’s core values,” the email reads.

Sexton added that using ChatGPT is presumed to be cheating in academic settings, adding to the “irony” of the EDI Office’s use of the tool. The university did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on whether using ChatGPT for academic assignments violates the university’s plagiarism policy. 

“Who knows precisely what was paraphrased. This kind of parenthetical citation would get points off in any class I’ve taken here,” Sexton said. “Nonetheless, this feels definitively wrong, whether ChatGPT provided a single word or the entire spiel.”

Aaditi Lele and Alison Winters contributed reporting to this piece.

26
View comments (26)
About the Contributors
Rachael Perrotta, Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and is majoring in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science in Peabody College. She was previously news editor. If shes not pressing you for a comment, shes probably trying to convince you that shes over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
Brina Ratangee, News Editor
Brina Ratangee ('24) 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].
Claire Gatlin, Life Editor
Claire Gatlin ('24) is a student in Peabody College studying human and organizational development and political science. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, reading and rollerblading. You can reach her at [email protected].
More to Discover

Comments (26)

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
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
26 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
C
3 months ago

Dear Vanderbilt Hustler,

I recently read your article about the Peabody EDI office’s response to the MSU shooting, and I wanted to commend you on your coverage of this important and sensitive topic. Your article showcases the power of ChatGPT in facilitating effective communication during challenging times.

The use of ChatGPT to draft an email response demonstrates the potential of AI technology to aid in crisis management and support organizations in providing timely and thoughtful communication. Your article effectively highlights the role of technology in helping institutions address sensitive incidents and engage with their communities.

I appreciate the balanced approach you’ve taken in discussing both the benefits and potential limitations of using AI language models in such situations. It’s important to consider the ethical implications and ensure that AI technology is used responsibly and with human oversight.

Thank you for shedding light on this innovative use of ChatGPT and for providing insights into its potential impact. Your coverage demonstrates your commitment to delivering relevant and timely news to your readers.

Keep up the great work!

S
Stephen Lee
7 months ago

Hire clowns, expect a circus. Feeling ashamed of my alma mater today.

J
Jessica VU 95
7 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Lee

DEI hires are never about merit.

F
7 months ago

Any idiot who doesn’t just grab someone from the English department to write a generic note from the school about the value of human life and the horror of school shootings should be fired for such an idiotic oversight. For fucks sake, people died, and you cant find someone to write a paragraph by a human to express sorrow and solidarity? What the fuck is wrong you fucking people? AI writing is perfectly fine if you’re describing an unremarkable car crash in your small town police blotter. It’s fine if you’re describing a new building permit being approved for a new shitty fast food restaurant in your shitty little town. Describing a fucking shooting on a local college campus is NOT the place for shitty AI writing, you fucking morons.
Seriously, any college professor who thought this was a good idea is too fucking stupid to teach anybody. Either that, or they’re just too fucking lazy. Fuck them . For fuck’s sake….

M
Mike Hunt
7 months ago
Reply to  Fuck you

Watch your fucking language.

J
Juan Rodriguez
7 months ago

An “inclusivity” message in response to a mass shooting doesn’t make any sense. Weren’t the alleged shooter and his victims diverse and inclusive enough for Nicole Joseph and her AI ghostwriter? Not only was the response in poor taste, it was a bad woke joke.

J
joshua
7 months ago

lets all give her a break, i mean she didnt shoot someone did she… i think she was just trying to be the “first” to use AI/chatGPT and let everyone know she is up on the latest technology. maybe it was a bit insensitive to use in this situation and especially note that she used chatGPT. what i want to know is what she typed in chatgpt to get this response. did she put something like “what should i say in my letter about school shootings ” ??

N
not vandy
7 months ago

Nicole M. Joseph.
OVERRATED / OVER PAID…
but we got an uptick in our diversity hiring….
regardless of value to our university…

S
Steven
7 months ago

What’s great is that this story was picked up by Bari Weiss’ The Free Press and is being seen nationally.

N
not vandy
7 months ago

Will anyone lose their job…. no. =(

We are all inclusive now; those that are awesome and those that are mediocre.

=(

M
Matt L.
7 months ago

Holy shit the staff who let this happen should all be fired. Students lose their entire scholarship, academic future, and reputation if they had done the same thing by using chatGPT to turn in a paper.

J
John Smith
7 months ago

When you just can’t be bothered to do the worthless job you were hired for, you can still find value in the fact that you’ve shown your boss that he can save money by simply eliminating your position and use AI instead.

J
Jack R
7 months ago

As an alum, completely disgusted. This admin has changed the culture of the university. There is no longer any caring like Zeppos. It’s all about the optics. Case in point the professor who wrote this. In her position of DEI solely to advance her own personal narratives, and when those don’t coincide with her duties we get a complete abdication of such. How about some empathy over anger, effort over performative. DEI can be hugely impactful- but find the right people, not the right external look.

C
Cory
7 months ago
Reply to  Jack R

We all need to get used to the idea of ChatGPT being used with more prevelence in mass communications in the future. Was it a bit tacky to make note of it in the footer? Probably. But it’s a significant leap to assume the signatories don’t agree or care about the message just because ChatGPT was used as a starting point. You said it well: “how about empathy over anger”.

N
not vandy
7 months ago
Reply to  Cory

You are an idiot, Jack R.

J
Jessica VU 95
7 months ago

Let’s just abolish the DEI departments everywhere. They are completely useless and add significant administrative costs which get passed along into tuition.

J
Julie
7 months ago

I’d rather they not say anything at all than pretend to give a shit. It’s so performative. Just one more thing to check off so they can say they met the minimum standards for being on the right side of history. There is no true caring or empathy in such an action. It’s heartless. Furthermore, they choose a really shitty letter. It was really bad. It basically said a shooting happened therefore we need to be respectful to each other? What the FUCK are they on about? I didn’t fucking shoot anyone. Don’t fucking preach at me with your robot nonsense, lady.

V
VU17
7 months ago

This is the same school that still has Dan Jackson coaching the football team. All empty words.

G
gpthero
7 months ago

this woman is a joke and embarrassment to ChatGPT

C
ClownWorld
7 months ago

The leftist NPCs can possibly have their programming updated often enough to keep up with the ever changing nonsensical buzzwords of newspeak.

J
Jay
7 months ago

Found this on business Insider. I’ve subscribed to the newsletters.

D
David Douglas Fleetham
7 months ago

Laith Kayat is my hero, articulating common sense judgement that the clowns running Universities today are incapable of.

C
CapnCane
7 months ago

Further evidence that most college admins (especially DEI) don’t do anything but inflate tuition.

T
Tiger L
7 months ago

🤡🤡🤡🤡

G
Grace
7 months ago

Despicable! Hope this makes national news

D
D. Mar
7 months ago
Reply to  Grace

it did!