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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.

MLC statements criticize university policy of principled neutrality

The Multicultural Leadership Council released the first of their series of statements condemning the university’s use of the stance of “principled neutrality” in response to global issues.
Abby Hoelscher
Leaves fall on Peabody campus outside Red Bicycle, as photographed on Oct. 26, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Abby Hoelscher)

The Multicultural Leadership Council released a statement on Feb. 4 criticizing the university’s policy of “principled neutrality” as the first of a series of four statements. The other three statements to be released in the coming weeks will specifically address the university’s response to the conflict in the Middle East, hateful rhetoric and gun violence, according to junior and MLC President Zack Maaieh.

Twenty-three student organizations including the Asian American Student Association, the Association of Latin American Students and the Black Students Association signed in agreement with the MLC’s positions. Maaieh said all of the statements were approved by over 80% of the MLC when he shared the first in a Feb. 1 email to The Hustler.

The first statement condemned the position of principled neutrality, which Chancellor Diermeier has promoted since his appointment in 2020. The MLC said they “respect the intention” of  encouraging free speech but believe the university has “failed” to actually make this idea a reality.

“The application of this principle has been an inequitable treatment of issues faced by students and an ignorance of the suffering of our surrounding communities and of humans across the globe,” the MLC statement reads.

The MLC called on Vanderbilt to make changes to its investments so its endowment would not go to industries they believe “harm society.” They cited Diermeier’s desire to use the funding for educational and research purposes and praised inclusive projects like Opportunity Vanderbilt, but they said they do not want to abandon their principles to “make a profit” for the university.

“We call on Vanderbilt to investigate and publish findings and divest from militarism and military corporations benefiting from escalations and death in world conflicts, the gun industry which rakes in $9 billion in profit by using toxic business practices, companies benefiting from Israeli oppression of Palestinians and fossil fuel companies that stifle the adoption of renewable energy and sustainable developments,” the MLC said.

The MLC asked that Vanderbilt reconsider its stance and use its power as a prestigious institution to create positive change.

“It’s time for Vanderbilt to shed the veil of ‘principled neutrality’ when convenient, and actively engage in advocacy that aligns with the broader societal good,” the MLC said. “We challenge Vanderbilt to live up to its mission of ‘bringing out the best in humanity’ and advance policies that create an environment that is inclusive, safe, responsible and forward-thinking.”

A representative of the university responded to the MLC’s statement in an email to The Hustler, claiming that the position of principled neutrality allows the university to “remain institutionally neutral” while supporting those “who may be directly affected by those issues.” They reaffirmed that the university has been “consistent in this commitment” to its position.

“Vanderbilt’s longstanding commitment to institutional neutrality helps best ensure an intellectual environment where our core values of academic freedom and expression can flourish,” the representative said. “The university’s deployment of endowment funds or engagement in boycotts as an advocacy tool would directly conflict with institutional neutrality and deny faculty and students the broadest possible space for diverse thought, inquiry and impassioned argument.”

President of Vanderbilt’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace expressed support for the MLC statements.

“As the Gaza genocide continues, it’s encouraging to know that MLC is not only speaking out against it but is also joining our effort to end Vanderbilt’s complicity in Israel’s assault,” the JVP president, granted anonymity for safety and privacy reasons, said.

A representative of Students for Justice in Palestine, also kept anonymous for safety and privacy reasons, said the MLC statements align with SJP’s values and perspective on the policy of principled neutrality. 

“Vanderbilt’s refusal to acknowledge or take action against the ongoing genocide in Palestine — as well as their readiness to support recent problematic events — highlights the university’s apathy towards all minority students and struggles,” the representative said.

In a statement to The Hustler, the Muslim Students Association expressed similar support for the MLC statements.

“The school’s current policies fail to adequately address current human rights abuses and continue to raise concerns about the university’s supposed commitment to supporting and caring for the many impacted communities on campus,” MSA said in a statement to The Hustler.

The first of the other three statements from the MLC was released on Instagram on Feb. 11. It states support for Palestine, saying Israel has “disproportionate power” over Gaza. The MLC also called for Vanderbilt to advocate in defense of Palestinian students and said they believe the university has not upheld its stance of principled neutrality, citing concerns regarding Dialogue Vanderbilt speakers.

“During this time of crisis and to rectify the polarization Diermeier intensified, we call for the University to work with Palestinian students to immediately send a message to the Vanderbilt community recognizing Israel’s horrific treatment of Gazans and the personal impact it has on Vanderbilt community members,” the MLC said.

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About the Contributors
Jacob Stoebner
Jacob Stoebner, News Editor
Jacob Stoebner ('26) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering. When not writing for The Hustler, you can usually find him running, hiking in parks around Nashville or reading. He can be reached at [email protected].
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].
Abby Hoelscher
Abby Hoelscher, Photography Editor
Abby Hoelscher (‘27) is from St. Louis and is an aspiring elementary teacher currently studying in Peabody College. She previously served as Deputy Photography Director. Outside of writing, she enjoys performing, learning Taylor Swift songs in American Sign Language and trying the seasonal lattes from the campus coffee shops. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (3)

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4 months ago

The headline should read “Thought Police Activists Condemn Freedom of Speech on Vanderbilt Campus”

Chuck 1970 & 1978
5 months ago

The Vandy community is much bigger than the current occupants of the campus. I came to Nashville in 1967 to go to Vandy(on scholarship), met my wife on campus, earned BE and MS degrees, purchased season tickets for both football and basketball, taught as Adjunct Prof for 9 years and am still involved on campus, today. I believe that I am a card carrying me member of the community. The writer does not represent my views, at all, and their understanding of the “community” is jingoistic and exclusionary. I support the Chancellor’s approach to a very morally complex problem in a very complex community.

vandy ‘24
5 months ago

Clearly, to the MLC, the voices of Jewish and Israeli students that don’t agree with their position do not matter. They do not want to engage in discussions that might challenge their one-sided views of difficult conflicts, but instead think Vanderbilt should emulate Harvard, which has the worst free speech ranking of any American university, and where Jewish students are repeatedly harassed for their identity. I do not agree with the Vanderbilt administration on many issues, but that is why they should refrain from taking a stance on controversial topics, because it is not their place to do so.

Last edited 5 months ago by vandy ‘24