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.

Metro Council members write letters to Chancellor Diermeier condemning Nashville Scene reporter arrest, supporting student protesters

District 20 Councilmember Rollin Horton and Councilmember at Large Zulfat Suara penned letters calling on Diermeier to protect free speech and press and to reinstate the VSG BDS referendum.
Josh Rehders
Eli Motycka, a Nashville Scene reporter gets arrested by VUPD on Vanderbilt Campus, as photographed on March 26, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Members of the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County sent two letters to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier on March 28 regarding the Kirkland Hall sit-in. The first, written by District 20 Councilmember Rollin Horton, expressed concern over VUPD’s arrest of Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka, and the second, written by Councilmember at Large Zulfat Suara, affirmed support for student protesters. 

The letters come after four Vanderbilt Divest Coalition members were arrested and 27 suspended indefinitely following a nearly 22-hour sit-in at Kirkland Hall in protest of the administration’s removal of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions referendum from the VSG ballot. VDC submitted a petition for text to be added to VSG’s constitution to align with the BDS movement. Over spring break, university administrators removed the proposition from the ballot, citing legal complications. 

Horton’s letter, co-signed by 19 council members, urges Diermeier to remember Vanderbilt’s influential role in the city and “uphold and protect” the freedoms of speech and press.

“As a prestigious institution of higher learning situated within our community, Vanderbilt University plays a significant role in shaping the values and discourse of our city,” the letter reads. “We urge you to embody these principles by working to ensure incidents such as this do not occur in the future and that the values of free speech and press are protected.”

In an email to The Hustler, Horton reaffirmed Nashville’s support for journalism and free expression, calling on the university to do the same.

“We urge the university to take action to ensure incidents such as this are avoided in the future. Nashville is a vibrant and welcoming community for journalists and all creative types,” Horton said. “The free expression and exchange of ideas is foundational to Nashville’s identity — journalism is a critical component of that. Our city will continue to welcome and support journalists and the important role they play in our community.”

Suara’s letter, co-signed by 10 council members, requested a meeting between Diemeier and the Metro Council and urged the VSG BDS vote to be reinstated.

“Things seem to be escalating quickly and beyond simply a few students feeling disgruntled,” the letter reads. “Not allowing the students to vote on this matter is undemocratic. Allowing the students to vote doesn’t tie your University to a particular outcome; however, not allowing them to vote is demoralizing and a repression of their free speech.” 

The letter also calls for the protesters’ suspensions to be repealed and criminal charges dropped.

“Students who don’t have anywhere to go should not be threatened with legal action for being on a campus where they pay tuition,” Suara’s letter reads.

In a March 28 post on X, Suara further criticized the university’s alleged suppression of student speech and expression.

“My colleagues and I sent a letter to Chancellor [Diermeier] expressing our support for students’ right to vote. We must remember that some of what happened on campus this week, including the arrest of [Motycka], stems from the suppression of students’ voices by the administration,” the post reads. 

The university released a statement on March 28 after further review of Motycka’s arrest, explaining that administration will continue to review current campus media policies. It did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on the letters penned by either council member. 

“Upon further reflection and recognizing the valuable input we have received, Vanderbilt will review whether the administration’s response to the Nashville Scene reporter’s attempts to gain access to a restricted building on Tuesday aligned with our core values,” the statement reads. “Vanderbilt will also review and explore updates to our campus access and media policies to best ensure our commitment to freedom of the press going forward.”

In a message to The Hustler, Motycka emphasized the importance of student journalism during this alleged restriction of the press.

“My arrest…[is] antithetical to a free, open and democratic society,” Motycka said in a message to The Hustler. “Vanderbilt’s current climate of hostility toward [the] media makes what The Hustler does within campus even more important.”

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About the Contributors
Jorie Fawcett
Jorie Fawcett, Senior Advisor
Jorie Fawcett ('25) is from Tiffin, Ohio, and studies secondary education and sociology in Peabody College. She previously served as Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor and Life Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her teaching, reading or pretending to study at Local Java or Suzie's. You can reach her at [email protected].
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Former Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (2)

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].
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Faculty member
1 month ago

I think the council members are overstepping here. The arrest of the journalist is certainly something they can address and it is of city-wide interest. The administration not allowing the vote, however, is much more complex than no vote = no democracy. There were legal issues and issues of inclusion too. A vote that could have banned Jewish student organizations (affiliated to Chabad or Hillel) from doing business with certain vendors (boycotted on account of association to a country central to those students’ identities) would have targeted one specific group of students questioning their inclusion and belonging on campus, with real consequences here, while having no real effect whatsoever on Palestinians in the middle East. This is something Metro council members may not be thinking of (as I suspect many students here who supported the BDS initiative may not have thought of either). I believe upholding our values, in this case inclusion and belonging, should take precedence over largely symbolic politics. I also suspect that the council members writing these letters are trying to use a Vanderbilt internal incident to support their own political views and know little about our campus community or our Jewish students.

Vanderbilt Graduate
1 month ago
Reply to  Faculty member

Good comment. I think it’s useful to note only two council members wrote, and those two are the most sympathetic to the cause at hand.