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.

Over 7,000 rally for gun reform in march organized by Vanderbilt students, protests to continue at capitol

Students Demand Action organizers estimate that 1,000 of the 7,000 attendees were Vanderbilt students, and Chancellor Daniel Diermeier reaffirmed university support of students’ right to protest in a community vigil on April 4.
Nashville+March+For+Our+Lives%2C+as+photographed+on+April+3%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FClaire+Gatlin%29
Claire Gatlin
Nashville March For Our Lives, as photographed on April 3, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Claire Gatlin)

Vanderbilt’s chapter of Students Demand Action and March For Our Lives hosted a city-wide walkout against gun violence at 10:13 a.m. CDT on April 3. The walkout was held in response to the recent shooting at The Covenant School, which left six victims dead. Vanderbilt also hosted a vigil on April 4 at the Wyatt Center for community members to reflect on the tragedy.

“Universities may very well be the best place where we can find solutions to even the most severe challenges of our times, and gun violence is high on that list,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said at the vigil.

SDA and MFOL activists returned to the Cordell Hull State Building on April 5 at 9 a.m. CDT to protest House Bill 1202, which would authorize school faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on school property. The House Education Administration Committee approved the bill, though, as of publication, it has not yet been passed by the entire House. 

To see the collective power of the youth rise up and march down that street and come together and say ‘enough is enough’ moved me to tears.

— Dr. Kelsey Gastineau, member of Moms Demand Action and the TN Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

SDA and MFOL are calling for students to return to the capitol on April 6 at 8 a.m. CDT to protest during the legislature’s vote on whether to expel Representatives Gloria Johnson (D), Justin Jones (D) and Justin Pierce (D). On March 30, the three Democratic legislators spoke at the podium without being formally recognized by the House Speaker, joining protestors in chants calling for gun control policy. In response, House Republicans introduced three expulsion resolutions at the end of the session on April 3 due to their alleged “disorderly behavior.” 

Though the expulsion vote is scheduled to take place on the morning of April 6, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) stripped Johnson and Jones of their committee roles on April 3; Pearson was not on any committees. All three have also reported having their building access restricted. From the Civil War until now, only two legislators had ever been expelled from the Tennessee House — one for criminal charges and another for sexual misconduct allegations. 

The walkout 

At 10:13 a.m., Vanderbilt students walked out of class and gathered on Magnolia Lawn to march to the Tennessee State Capitol for the protest. It took approximately one hour to traverse the two mile distance. Other students took the bus, drove or Lyfted to the site of the rally using discount codes provided by VSG.

(Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)

On the way to the capitol building, attendees chanted phrases such as “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!” and “What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now!”

First-year Emma Williams praised the many students who walked out with her and the speed with which the protest was organized.

“We keep seeing shootings happen every day, and it’s really easy to get desensitized and lose hope,” Williams said. “But just going to a protest, especially one of this size, and seeing so many people passionate is a very powerful act of solidarity.”

Speeches

MFOL Judicial Advocacy Associate Brynn Jones, a junior; MFOL National Organizer Ezri Tyler, a first-year; and Students Demand Action leaders, Zack Maaieh, Iman Omer and Jayce Pollard — all sophomores — spoke during the rally about the purpose of the walkout.

“We organized this walkout in collaboration with March For Our Lives, and so Students Demand Action — our main focus was to rally Vanderbilt students and to engage the Vanderbilt and greater Nashville population,” Omer said. 

Omer added that she appreciated the cooperation of professors who canceled their classes, allowing for a larger student turnout. 

“We know that Vandy has a very politically active population, and I know this hit home for a lot of people,” Omer said to The Hustler. 

They don’t have enough handcuffs for all the kids.

— Manuel Oliver, Change the Ref founder and father of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver

Carrie Russell, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education and Professor of Political Science and Law, canceled her classes to allow her students and herself the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment right to petition. 

“I was overjoyed to walk with so many Vanderbilt students from our campus to the state capitol because democracy is only as good as the people who participate in it,” Russell said. “And you have to participate in a constitutional democracy. If you don’t participate, others will participate for you, and not always with the interests of the common person in mind.”

Tyler encouraged attendees to remain involved in protests and activism calling for gun legislation reform. 

“We now are calling everyone to join the next week of actions and support our representatives because the resounding message to our reps, the resounding message by the thousands is we are tired of your culture wars that are harming our community when you ignore what kills every single day,” Tyler said.

Other Vanderbilt-affiliated speakers at the event included Dr. Kelsey Gastineau, a Moms Demand Action volunteer and member of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Professor Michael Eric Dyson; Hidden Dores President Induja Kumar, a junior and former MFOL organizer; and Dores Worker Solidarity Network representative Daniel Wrocherinsky, a first-year graduate student. Tyler clarified to The Hustler that Dyson, who has a history of sexual assault allegations, was “not a planned speaker.”

Gastineau called the student-led demonstration “incredible.” She said even knowing statistics about youth gun violence deaths did not prepare her for the devastation of the Covenant School tragedy.

“My mind knows that this [gun violence] is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 18. But to have it happen in my community rocked me like nothing else,” Gastineau said. “Then to see the collective power of the youth rise up and march down that street and come together and say ‘enough is enough’ moved me to tears.”

During his remarks, Wrocherinsky also announced the launch of the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network, modeled after the Dores Worker Solidarity Network, citing inspiration from the Nashville Student Movement led by John Lewis, Diane Nash and Marion Berry in the 1960s. This network aims to organize students across the state “to demand dignity and liberation for all Tennesseans.”

Other speakers included government officials, Metro Nashville Public Schools representatives, nonprofit directors and high school students from the Nashville community. 

Change the Ref founder Manuel Oliver, the father of Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, shared that protesting with students is important to him, but he wants legislative change.  

“It’s more than just walking to stop gun violence in your case; it’s marching to survive,” Oliver said. 

Oliver also spoke about his March 24 arrest in Washington D.C. after he disrupted a congressional hearing on gun laws.

“There’s a minor risk here, and when I say minor, it’s because the other option is to die by gun violence, this is what happened to my son [Joaquin Oliver],” Oliver said. “Getting arrested is just part of the process…I will do it again and again and again. They don’t have enough handcuffs for all the kids.” 

Reactions to the walkout

After the walkout, Maaieh told The Hustler that he feels “energized” for continued activism. 

“The biggest emotion I’m really feeling now is anger because I’m seeing all these people turn out, and, yet, our legislature is doing nothing,” Maaieh said. “I hope that every person in the statehouse right now and Governor Bill Lee will see this crowd and see how much people care about the lives that we’re losing every day and end up doing something to take action.” 

When it happens to you, grief finds no openings, and it just pours out.

— Camilla Benbow, Peabody Dean of Education and Human Development

While they said the turnout was very inspiring, Kumar hopes that Vanderbilt students continue to build momentum on campus. Retired Vanderbilt physics professor and rally attendee Charles Brau urged people to take the momentum of the rally to the polls.

“My mantra is: Protesting is fun, voting gets it done,” Brau said. “Register.”

Maya Chatterjee, who was admitted to Vanderbilt’s Class of 2027 and attended the protest while visiting Nashville, said the rhetoric of the rally was a stark contrast to rallies she has attended in New York City where she lives. 

“It’s interesting to see how people come at this issue from different perspectives. In New York City, no one is quoting the Bible and no one is talking about God in protests, but I think here, people are coming and protesting and making arguments from a variety of different lenses,” Chatterjee said.

Community vigil

At the community vigil the following day, Diermeier reaffirmed the university’s support for the right to protest.

“[On April 3], hundreds of Vanderbilt students and faculty joined thousands of protestors in a march on the state capitol to demand stronger gun laws. At Vanderbilt, we wholeheartedly support the right for community members to protest and demand change,” Diermeier said. 

Camilla Benbow, Peabody Dean of Education and Human Development, also spoke at the vigil and expressed her remorse for the lives lost, especially those from the Vanderbilt community — including Peabody alumna Katherine Koonce and one of the children of a VUMC faculty member. 

“I know that people talk about the dulling effects of the long series of mass shootings that have characterized America in recent decades. Maybe that is the case but not when it happens in your own town, to a school one drives by every day, to people whom you knew or taught or loved,” Benbow said. “When it happens to you, grief finds no openings, and it just pours out.”

Benbow also encouraged those grieving to find “room for appreciation” for educators.

“Teachers, school leaders, and other educators bring traits and values to their work that make education a calling and a gift to future generations,” Benbow said. “To the educators in training here at Vanderbilt who learned of last week’s shooting and who still plan to dedicate themselves to help children flourish: I admire you. May you all become a ‘mighty oak,’ as they call Dr. Koonce.”

Benbow’s remarks were followed by a reading of Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall.” Reverend Gretchen Person, associate university chaplain and associate of director religious life, spoke more about the process of grieving.

“We are not meant to be islands of grief,” Person said. “One day, in your own time and with emotional work, loss becomes like a precious wound. It is not that the wound becomes smaller with time, but we grow around it, and the sharp edge of the wound is somewhat cushioned by being in community.”

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About the Contributors
Brina Ratangee, News Editor
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Duaa Faquih, Former Staff Writer
Duaa Faquih ('24) is majoring in political science and minoring in communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. Apart from forcing her friends to watch videos of her cat, Duaa loves reading fantasy novels, painting and trying new restaurants. She can be reached 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].
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George V. Corsiglia
1 year ago

Well done, Vanderbilt students. Please continue to bravely speak the truth and stand up for it–along with reason, justice, and sanity. I’m proud to call VU my alma matter, but it would make me sad and ill to live in Nashville right now.