Student protestors occupying Kirkland Hall, as photographed on Mar 26, 2024 (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Divest Coalition)
Student protestors occupying Kirkland Hall, as photographed on Mar 26, 2024 (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Divest Coalition)
Vanderbilt Divest Coalition

Inside Kirkland Hall: Vanderbilt Divest Coalition protestors report ‘inhumane’ treatment amid student suspensions and arrest of reporter

Protestors have been sitting in 13 hours so far, and protestors say that one student was “nearing toxic shock.”

University administrators continue to bar student and press access into Kirkland Hall amid an ongoing student sit-in. Here’s an exclusive look from The Vanderbilt Hustler into Kirkland Hall.

The rundown:

  • At 9 a.m. CDT on March 26, 27 undergraduate protestors from the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition rushed into Kirkland Hall for a sit-in. The students are calling for the administration to allow the student body to vote on a VSG constitutional amendment to prevent VSG funds from being used on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement’s targets. The students specifically want to meet with Chancellor Daniel Diermeier about this matter, whose office is located in Kirkland Hall. 
  • Last week, the university alleged the BDS amendment is illegal and canceled it. The referendum was scheduled to go to a vote on March 25 after gaining 600 student signatures in support.
  • As of 9 p.m. CDT, all 27 protestors remain inside and police presence outside the premises has continued. Students inside report “inhumane” treatment but said they will remain inside until their demands are met or until they are forcibly removed.
  • Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka was arrested around 1:30 pm CDT for alleged attempted trespassing. He has since been released, will not be prosecuted and was not charged. The Hustler also has been barred from inside Kirkland Hall.
  • At least 16 protestors say they have received “interim suspensions” from the university.
  • Students also have been demonstrating outside Kirkland Hall all day in support of the students staging the sit-in.

Conditions inside Kirkland Hall

Student protestors inside Kirkland Hall told The Hustler that they are not being allowed to have food or medicine brought to them or use the restroom, leading people to urinate in bottles. A student protester inside Kirkland Hall granted anonymity for protection from professional retribution said they fear legal trouble for public indecency if they were to pee in a bottle.

Water and food from Panera Bread were taken inside the building around 6 p.m. CDT, which student protesters said were given to police officers on the premises.

During an Instagram Live hosted around 6:30 p.m. CDT, one protestor described that they have needed to urinate “for at least five of the nine hours” that protesters have been inside. They stated that a VUPD officer told them that they would only be allowed to use the restroom if they agreed to be escorted out of the building. The protester stated that they are prone to urinary tract infections and kidney infections and, thus, are especially worried about their health.

At approximately 7:45 p.m. CDT, student protestors stated that one protestor was experiencing early symptoms of toxic shock syndrome such as pain, nausea and fever symptoms. Officers told the person that they still could not use the restroom without being removed from the premises, so they decided to remove their tampon during the sit-in. Students report feeling sick, dehydrated and nauseous. A university representative did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about whether medical personnel would be allowed into the building if a student was experiencing a medical emergency. 

Bottles used by protesters to urinate, as photographed on Mar 26, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Divest Coalition)

Supporters have reported calling Diermeier’s office and local representatives to demand improved conditions for protestors and encouraging supporters to do the same. Posting outside Kirkland Hall, other student protestors have been chanting messages of support for the students inside Kirkland Hall such as “Let them pee! Let them eat!”

Students protest for the BDS referendum to go to a vote, as photographed on March 26, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Kath Oung)
Students protest for the BDS referendum to go to a vote, as photographed on March 26, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Katherine Oung)

Recap of protests

The group of protestors outside Kirkland Hall previously left the area at around 2:45 p.m. CDT out of fear of repercussions for protesting outside the university’s guidelines. Vanderbilt has established locations on campus where protesting is prohibited, including most of the perimeter of Kirkland Hall. These guidelines were distributed to protestors on site today.

At least 16 student protestors were issued interim suspensions by Student Accountability, all but one of whom are protestors inside the building. The Hustler obtained a protestor’s suspension notice, which did not outline the alleged violation. Students who are issued interim suspensions are barred from campus and may face arrest if present on campus. The suspended students remain on campus in Kirkland Hall. 

“According to the Vanderbilt University Student Handbook, suspension, pending an investigation and accountability meeting, may be imposed when there is a reason to believe the action is necessary to maintain University functions or to protect the safety of individuals,” the suspension notice reads.

One student, senior Hunter Graves, was protesting at the rally outside the building and was issued an interim suspension that was later revoked. Graves said this incident is his second reprisal from Student Accountability for his activism, with the prior violation being for posting unauthorized flyers on campus. 

“This is just a continuation of what Vanderbilt University has been doing since the moment we started this movement,” Graves said. “Trying to suppress our voices, trying to punish us for raising our voices and using our free speech.”

VUPD Officers entering Kirkland Hall, as photographed on March 26, 2024 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

The university emphasized to The Hustler the centrality of free expression and civil discourse to Vanderbilt. Protest limitations, such as those outlined in maps distributed at today’s protest, were said to be necessary for community safety and the preservation of university operations.

“We, as a matter of policy, define time, place and manner limitations. The safety and well-being of our community is a top priority,” the university’s statement reads. “The university will take action when our policies are violated, the safety of our campus is jeopardized and when people intimidate or injure members of our community.”

A group-written statement to The Hustler from the protestors inside Kirkland Hall reads that Vanderbilt’s stated commitment to freedom of expression falls short given its admitted limits on protesting.

“They are admitting that they do not value protests as a legitimate form of political action, and only permit “protests” as they see fit. This is consistent with their lies about their support for free speech,” the protestors’ statement reads.

The university alleged to The Hustler that students were physical with Vanderbilt employees to gain entry into Kirkland Hall. These staff members were working in Kirkland Hall, despite the university stating it is closed for construction.

“Some students physically assaulted a Community Service Officer to gain entrance and proceeded to push staff members who offered to meet with them,” the university’s statement reads.

The protestors’ statement further claims that Vanderbilt’s statement contains misinformation.

“Students were grabbed and assaulted, and defended themselves from CSOs on their way to protest at the Chancellor’s office in an attempt to exercise their fundamental rights to free speech and free expression,” the protestors’ statement reads.

University representatives have denied The Hustler’s requests to allow student reporters and photographers into Kirkland Hall, claiming that it is closed due to construction. The university previously told The Hustler that renovations were done in February. Furthermore, on March 19, The Hustler interviewed Chancellor Diermeier at Kirkland Hall, and the construction site is listed as complete on the FutureVU website. Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka was arrested by VUPD earlier today for alleged attempted trespassing while reporting on the sit-in. Motycka was later released and will not face charges. 

This breaking story will be updated as more information becomes available.

View comments (16)
About the Contributors
Aaditi Lele
Aaditi Lele, Editorial Director
Aaditi Lele ('24) is majoring in political science and climate science with a minor in South Asian Language and Culture in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as News Editor. Outside of The Hustler, you can find her crocheting, practicing calligraphy or counting down the days until she can see her dog. She can be reached at [email protected].    
Katherine Oung
Katherine Oung, Data Director
Katherine Oung ('25) is majoring in political science and computer science and minoring in data science in the College of Arts and Science. They are from West Palm Beach, Fla., and were previously Deputy News Editor and Managing Editor. Katherine enjoys working on freelance journalism projects and making incredibly specific Spotify playlists. They can be reached at [email protected].
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Senior Advisor
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 Editor-in-Chief and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
Miguel Beristain
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
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Comments (16)

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E
Edmund Leigh
20 days ago

Breaking and entering and roughing up a security guard to protect the administration building “to do your thing” and protest is not smart especially when you jeapordize a world class education that for some costs $ 95 K per year. John Wayne once said “Life is tough and it is even tougher if you are stupid”. These so called protesters are going to find out what it means by being in the latter category of Mr. Wayne’s quote.

F
Fact checking needed
21 days ago

Can The Hustler do some fact-checking on the bathroom question? The Hustler has quoted protestors on the claim that they were denied access to bathrooms. And it has posted a photo of plastic bottles presumably used for the protestors to relieve themselves. The source for that photo, the caption says, is the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition. I have many questions:

a) What is the actual claim? There is a difference between, say, a security guard by the bathroom door, denying access, or telling protesters “the bathroom is down the hallway but if you leave the office (that you are occupying) we will not let you back in.” The latter is denying access to the office, not to the bathroom. (I have the same questions concerning denial of water.)

b) The protesters claim that they couldn’t access bathrooms but managed to pee into spring water bottles. Is The Hustler not going to ask any questions about this? How did they manage to have any privacy to do this in the not-at-all private spaces they were occupying? For women, peeing in a bottle, especially the type pictured (with a small mouth opening) is quite difficult. So, did women pee into these bottles while in an office surrounded by dozens of people? Is The Hustler not interested in double-checking this claim or at least questioning the protestors further?

c) Kirkland Hall has plenty of staff. Can’t The Hustler at least try to fact-check what the protestors are saying?

J
Justus
23 days ago

The Chancellor’s name is “Diermeier”, not “Diermier”

R
Reality matters
24 days ago

There is no reason whatsoever the kids should not have been arrested and/ or suspended or expelled. And why precisely anyone thinks the administration should be complicit in allowing a takeover of the building is flat out beyond me. The woman complaining of not being able to change her tampon and thus going into toxic shock is full of it. Tampons in the US have changed since the wave of toxic shock. And if she seriously was ill then she could leave and seek medical care. To claim no food or water for 13 hours is inhumane is laughable. Many people do intermittent fasting by choice. Many people (Muslims now during Ramadan) have no food or water for as many hours. Many other religions have 24-25 hour fasts with no food or water. Nothing but contempt for these children.

D
Decolonizing Jones
25 days ago

Dear god, what an awful several hours that must (might) have been for some people. God damn the Vandy Police for forcing this group of proud warriors from unsanitary menstruation, or peed pants. God damn them to hell!

Shows of solidarity with the oppressed people of this world! Words fail me…We should all be inspired by, and indeed praise these gallant Commodores. We should absolutely not make these heroes the subject of ridicule, or derision. Not by this reader. Certainly not.

Globalize the intifada!

L
LarryS
24 days ago

Where is your call to have the Israeli hostages released?

J
June S.
10 days ago
Reply to  LarryS

I think that commenter “Jones” was mocking the protesting students and their silver-spoon expectations with very heavy sarcasm. I understand why, the young adults behaving so selfishly and we can see the truth that their only real cause is themselves.

I ask people every day: where is the Bibas family? I pray for this family and all the other hostages every day.

T
Tiredofsnowflakee
21 days ago

I’m assuming/hoping you are being sarcastic.

A
Ann Todd
25 days ago

I’m older now but not too old to care. I’m no longer living in Nashville, nor Tennessee for that matter but continuing to keep up with current events. Bravo to the brave university students who believe in doing the right thing! I was did my share of protests in the 60s & 70s and I think it made a difference. But I’ve never seen the country polarized like it is now and I’m afraid. Mob mentality is a real psychological issue and with social media, it can be mobilized across the country quickly. Please be careful and stay safe.

S
Star
25 days ago

It would have been nice if someone brought these hungry protestors some pulled pork bbq sandwiches or hot dogs.

B
Bob Roberts
25 days ago
Reply to  Star

Oh, the humanity, lol!

T
ter bos
25 days ago

these birthing people are crazy!

T
Tiredofsnowflakee
26 days ago

Seems like the protesters were expecting those whom they were protesting to facilitate their protest. Sorry, kids, but that’s not how it works in the real world. You want food to eat and something to drink while you’re occupying space that doesn’t belong to you? Bring your own water and sandwiches.

V
VU25
26 days ago

Why are the insurrectionists using non environmentally friendly plastic water bottles?

J
Jae
26 days ago
Reply to  VU25

I don’t understand why these kids think they can go to a university and just … be there. Like, it’s not theirs? Wouldn’t it be more constructive to protest in places where protests actually belong. If they want the amendment to fail so badly can’t they just vote against it?

C
Cranky Alum
26 days ago

Good. Sit ins have a powerful history in Nashville, and those protected by power and privilege have always opposed them. Keep up the good work.