The Vanderbilt Hustler

Students stage sit-in to support Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin, #MeTooSTEM

Sam Zern, Editor in Chief

Students held a sit-in outside of Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’s Kirkland Hall office on Feb. 27,  in support of Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin, a Vanderbilt Medical School professor fighting for tenure. McLaughlin made headlines in recent weeks for what she says is retaliation from members of the university, who reversed her approved tenure following her involvement in various Title IX investigations. Now, McLaughlin is at risk of losing her job by unless Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, who has final say in tenure decisions, decides to overturn her rejection.

For nearly three hours, the approximately 20 to 30 sit-in attendees shared their frustrations with university officials, citing McLaughlin’s story and their own personal experiences with sexual harassment and misconduct in STEM spaces.

“I attended because I think the work Dr. McLaughlin has done for the #MeTooSTEM movement is of the utmost importance,” Genna Chiaro, a graduate student involved in the sit-in, said. “I became involved through Twitter conversations revolving around the hashtag. I haven’t met Dr. McLaughlin but she is a role model of mine for the work that she has done advocating on the behalf of women in STEM. She has created an amazing support system for women in the sciences and I am inspired by her actions.”

Zeppos was not present at the event, but other administrators were there to hear student concerns, including Provost Susan Wente, Vice Chancellor Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Dean Mark Bandas and others.

“[The administrators] were very good at listening and addressing all of our issues and I felt very supported in our cause by the provosts,” Chiaro said. “I am very impressed by them – especially with their efforts to address all of our issues from the student side of things. Also, the fact that the majority of them were women was awesome! After I shared my #MeTooSTEM story, they all offered me supporting words afterwards and I could tell that they were committed to change the culture in which situations like that can happen.”  

Vanderbilt officials declined to comment beyond what was said in the official statement from late last week.

Bryce Beddard, a senior who attended the sit-in, said he felt that as students, there is a need for those who are on campus to advocate for the over 8,500 people who signed the change.org petition supporting Dr. McLaughlin.

“I came here today in support of professor McLaughlin’s tenure. From the optics of the situation, how her tenure process has been handled, it feels as if Vanderbilt is not committing itself to the #MeTooSTEM movement and is retaliating against professor McLaughlin for advocating for that movement,” Beddard said. “As a senior student graduating in the fall, this is something that, to end my Vanderbilt career on, having professor McLaughlin’s tenure denied in what I view as an improper denial, would really sour my view on my degree and this university as I leave. So I’m here in support of her and all other sexual assault victims and advocates.”

In addition to student engagement, STEM professionals have rallied behind McLaughlin on Twitter. Inspired by Dr. Sharona Gordon, a neuroscientist who started the change.org petition, Dr. Ed Boyden, an MIT neuroscientist, has postponed his March 6 visit to campus.

At the sit-in, The Hustler asked the present administrators their thoughts on Boyden’s cancellation.

“I’m disappointed because innocent people who are not part of this are being deprived of interacting with that speaker,” Wente said.

Beyond Vanderbilt, McLaughlin’s story has received national attention. Alex Rapson, a senior campaigner at change.org, reached out to several student organizations to learn more about what was happening on campus.

“As a campaigner at Change.org, I was really excited to see the amount of organic growth on the petition supporting Professor McLaughlin – it’s reached over 8,500 signatures through sharing alone.  A quick search on Twitter revealed the powerful community of students and fellow academics who are behind Prof. McLaughlin. The story also resonates far beyond the academy – retaliation against whistleblowers, particularly around the MeToo movement – is hugely concerning. We’re seeing a lot of people taking action on issues of sexual harassment and assault on Change.org.”

McLaughlin is at risk of losing her job when her research grant runs out if her tenure is not approved, potentially sometime in March. She continues to be active both in her advocacy work with #MeTooSTEM and in her position at Vanderbilt. Josh Brooks, who received his PhD from Vanderbilt in 2009, worked with McLaughlin during his time at the university and said that Vanderbilt really benefits from having people like McLaughlin working with students.

“As someone who’s benefited from her direct influence and her direct mentorship, it’s just bizarre to see such an odd take, when in reality all she’s done is what she’s always done: stand up for the student, try to get the student to shine, point the student in the right direction and not let someone stand in the student’s way,” Brooks said.


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About the Writer
Sam Zern, Editor in Chief

Sam Zern ('20) has been a member of The Vanderbilt Hustler since her freshman year, when she joined the team first as a staff writer before being hired...

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