Foliage covers a path near Furman Hall. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little) (Emery Little)
Foliage covers a path near Furman Hall. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little)

Emery Little

2020 in Review: The Year of Headlines

As we enter the new year, The Hustler reflects back on the events of 2020.

January 18, 2021

2020 was the year of headlines. The Hustler is looking back on the tumultuous events of the past year before we push forward into the new year. 

JANUARY:

The year kicked off with a bang as the Vanderbilt football team announced Todd Fitch and Ted Roof as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively.

Caviar & Bananas permanently shut its doors. The popular, fast-casual restaurant was an approved Taste of Nashville location.

Musician and actress Janelle Monáe visited Vanderbilt campus along with a former member of the Exonerated Five Yusef Salaam.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)’s leading scorer nation’s top-five three-point shooter Aaron Nesmith sustains a season-ending injury.

Following Nesmith’s injury, after making at least one three-pointer in every game since the invention of the three-point line, Vanderbilt’s record ended at 1,080 as it failed to make one against Tennessee.

The month concluded with the first national event of the year, as Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, a former Hustler editor, played an important role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trials.

FEBRUARY:

The month started off with the university pledging to reach zero-waste by 2030, in addition, to the announcement of its partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The first signs of COVID-19 begin to affect the Vanderbilt community, as spring study abroad to mainland China is suspended.

Athletic director Malcolm Turner resigned from his position, after one year in charge. Candace Storey Lee, a Triple ‘Dore, was named as interim; Storey Lee became the first Black woman to serve in the position in SEC history.

Former National Security Advisors John Bolton and Susan Rice came to Vanderbilt campus. Bolton was involved in the first impeachment of President Donald Trump, and Rice has recently been placed as head of the President-elect Joe Biden Domestic Policy Council. 

The Hustler reported that Interfraternity Council (IFC)’s membership was down 37 percent from 2015 following the release of the Office of Greek Life’s Semester Academic & Membership Size Rankings. In addition, six of ten fraternities on campus were on social suspension.

Vanderbilt’s 26-game losing streak in SEC play, spanning 704 days, was snapped with an upset win over LSU. Athletics continued to be a source of good news, as the university, followed the LSU win by releasing its Athletic Strategic plan, which announced renovations to the football team locker room.

The month ended as it began with the ever-increasing effects from COVID-19. The CET Academic Programs (CET) suspended the Vanderbilt in Florence study abroad program, following the spread of the coronavirus. The university, then, required all community members traveling to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran to update the university of their travel and self-isolate off campus for 14 days.

MARCH:

Moving with COVID-19, the year continued to worsen as tornadoes tore through the Nashville, East Nashville and Mt. Juliet areas, causing at least 19 deaths. The Vanderbilt campus escaped without any damage.

A Vanderbilt student tested positive for COVID-19 in Chicago, and some students coming back from break expressed concern about safety due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Hustler then reported that another student, Hustler editorial director Max Schulman, who visited Barcelona, tested positive for COVID-19. Hours after the Hustler’s story went live, the university canceled class for the remainder of the week and moved to online class.

More downstream effects resulted from COVID-19, as study abroad classes in Barcelona and Madrid were suspended for two weeks and VSG elections were pushed back a week.

Then in a historic move, Vanderbilt canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester. Following class cancellation, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) also suspended athletics until at least the end of the month. Then, editor in chief Rachel Friedman made the decision to end regular Hustler coverage in a heartfelt letter from the editor.

Two more students tested positive for COVID-19: one at the student health center and the other in Scranton, PA. In order to allow flexibility for students, Vanderbilt made all classes eligible for pass-fail status. Students continued to experience hardship, as many had issues traveling home.

The Hustler wrote a popular piece explaining the features found in Zoom, the software used by Vanderbilt for virtual class. Student organizations continued to advocate for students, as VSG Senate passed a resolution requesting administration to reimburse students for unused services such as housing, meal plans and residential college fees. VSG elections also were well underway, as the Shah/Ahmed and Bauman/Rome tickets advanced to the general election. Following the student outcry, the university promised financial compensation for the semester in addition to setting up a hardship fund.

VSG General Elections continued as The Hustler hosted a virtual debate between the two tickets in the general election. Two days after the debate, voting concluded, and Veer Shah and Shun Ahmed were named Student Body President and Vice President, respectively. In the meantime, Commencement for the Class of 2021 was postponed.

The blows kept coming as the month finished with the university announcing that Maymesters and summer classes would also be online.

APRIL:

April started off like March ended as students were unhappy with Vanderbilt’s summer transfer credit policy. However, there was some good news as the university announced refunds of up to $1,380.

The university also released its Regular Decision acceptance rate for the Class of 2024, increasing to 9.0 percent, up from 6.8 percent the previous year.

The Hustler expressed frustration with the university’s lack of communication to our student journalists in a scathing editorial, “Vanderbilt, Talk to us. Please.

The federal government released aid to students as a part of the CARES act; students who were ‘most in need’ would receive $1,100.

Vanderbilt Student Communications Division Heads were announced; Deputy News Editor Immanual John Milton was chosen as The Hustler’s next editor-in-chief. The Hustler had won a stunning 15 Tennessee AP Awards during Friedman’s term as chief.

Vanderbilt football player Ke’Shawn Vaughn was selected in the third round by the Buccaneers in the 2020 NFL Draft; Kalija Lipscomb, Justice Shelton-Mosley, Jared Pinkney and Riley Neal signed UDFA contracts.

The Melodores, an all-male a cappella group, captured national attention with its rendition of Justin Timberlake’s Pusher Love Girl.

The bad luck continued for Vanderbilt, as a student sued the university for its reimbursement policy, bringing three counts in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The month finished on a bittersweet note as The Hustler commemorated our graduating seniors’ accomplishments on staff. 

MAY:

The Hustler hoped to break through the doom and gloom and start off the month right, as we showcased our furry friends. The good news continued as the Class of 2020 celebrated their Commencement, albeit virtually.

The university announced the details of its Return to Campus plan, which would reopen ‘specific’ and ‘limited’ on-campus operations.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a new set of regulations to govern the implementation of Title IX from the Education Amendments of 1972 to go into effect Aug. 14. The guidelines would serve to redefine sexual harassment and allow for the accused’s representation to directly cross-examine those making the accusations.

In the sports world, Vanderbilt Basketball parted ways with coaches David Grace, Ricardo Patton. In addition, the NCAA and SEC lifted bans, allowing student-athletes to return to campuses for workouts. Men’s golf star John Augenstein was named SEC Player of the Year, and last, but definitely not least, then-interim Candice Storey Lee was permanently instated as Vanderbilt’s athletic director.

In the midst of the athletics news, the university announced the suspension of Fall 2020 study due to the continued COVID-19 threat.

The month ended with the beginnings of the protests in cities around the nation, including Nashville, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

JUNE:

The university and student groups provided statements of solidarity supporting Vanderbilt’s Black community. First-year John Lee committed to cycle across mid-America in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students and alumni further petitioned the university administration, calling for action regarding racial justice.

Vanderbilt baseball continued to be the cream of the crop as Jake Eder was drafted by Marlins in the fourth round; Tyler Brown was drafted by Astros in the third round; Austin Martin was drafted by Blue Jays in the first round; Mason Hickman was drafted by Indians in the fifth round; Harrison Ray and Ty Duvall signed UDFA contracts with Blue Jays and Mariners, respectively. In more sports news, Vanderbilt athletics released its return to campus plan. 

The university announced that new transfer students would live off campus for the 2020-21 academic year due to housing constraints. More constraints resulted in the termination of the Outdoor Rec. Center, prompting a community outcry.

Vanderbilt released its fall semester plans; classes were reported to commence Aug. 24.

Multiple current and former Vanderbilt football players were accused of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and rape, on social media platforms.

Another former Hustler editor made big, as Tyler Bishop spoke with The Hustler about his work on the 6-3 United States Supreme Court Decision in Bostock v. Clayton County in favor of Bishop’s side.

JULY:

Daniel Diermeier began his term as Vanderbilt’s ninth Chancellor on July 1 following his time serving as Provost at the University of Chicago. The Hustler was able to interview him both at the start of his time at Vanderbilt and at the end of the Fall 2020 semester.

A video surfaced of a student in Greek life using a racial slur at Gulf Shores, Alabama which served as momentum for the Abolish Greek Life movement. Social media accounts like the Abolish Greek Life account as well as Dear PWI and the Vanderbilt Journal helped students voice their experiences.

At least ten athletics communications positions were terminated in an effort to integrate athletic and overall university communications. While the department was not eliminated, the move came as a surprise to several university employees.

International students partnered with the Multicultural Leadership Council and VSG to voice their demands to Dean of Students Mark Bandas. The Association of Latin American Students had published a survey that showed concerns from international students. This meeting followed ICE’s updated guidelines which reversed temporary exemptions allowing international students to remain in the United States through the spring. Vanderbilt jointly filed an amicus curiae brief along with Harvard and MIT objecting to this announcement. Within the same month, ICE reversed their restrictions, but months later into the Fall 2020 semester international students still reported difficulties obtaining accommodations from several of their professors.

Students learned what the on-campus guidelines for gatherings were in July: maintenance of social distancing guidelines had to be possible at all times, all parties had to be masked and no more than ten people at a time could be present at the gathering.

Taylor Swift released her alternative album “folklore” in July to the surprise of her fans. The album has roots in folk music rather than her usual pop and explores elements of each of her past albums.

AUGUST:

Kicker Oren Milstein ops out of season, becoming the first known opt-out for the Vanderbilt football program. At least four more Vanderbilt football players opted out.

Lightning 100’s Live On The Green music festival transitioned to a virtual approach due to the pandemic.

The university announced the pilot for the university test bank, as five departments’ faculty coordinated with VSG for the pilot.

Multiple Vanderbilt football players tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, Vanderbilt paused football activities, only resuming at the end of the month. In more positive news, Head Baseball coach Tim Corbin was inducted into Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame; Rocker, VandyBoys, Bulanova and Wallace were honored by the same body.

The Hustler wrote a feature on The People’s Plaza, which peacefully occupied space 24/7 outside of the Capitol for a total of 62 days, to fight for the removal of Confederate statues, a conversation with Governor Bill Lee, the defunding and the demilitarization of the police. 

Editor-in-Chief Immanual John Milton kicked off The Hustler’s start of the semester with his first letter from the editor.

As class started, students experienced outages on Zoom, forcing community members to adapt learning plans. The university also began its mandatory weekly testing program on all undergraduates at the end of the month.

The start of the semester also began the disciplinary action from the university related to violations of COVID-19 regulations. Students received notices from the university if they were in violation. This period also marked the infamous 50-200 person gathering on Commons by first-year students.

SEPTEMBER:

The trend of positive COVID-19 tests coming out of the athletic department continued in September, with the football and soccer programs being the unfortunate targets of the virus. Vanderbilt later would announce no fans at football through October, which they would partially amend by allowing students into games. 

U.S. Election class, an 800-person virtual offering taught by a team of four teachers during election years, had its first noteworthy guest of the year, as ex-presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg addressed the class. Other guests would join later in the year including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, presidential candidate Julián Castro and former President George W. Bush. The class received national attention for two separate controversies: a quiz question and Professor Jon Meacham’s contribution to MSNBC regarding President-elect Joe Biden’s speech.

The Hustler documented the quarantine experience when two of our own were sent away to Blakemore. The Vanderbilt Corona Police Instagram page proved controversial for taking pictures of students on campus who appear to not be following social distancing guidelines.

First-years living in Towers reported feeling a lack of community on campus. Even though students were struggling, they still attempted to help community members financially through programs such as Vandy Mutual Aid.

The university received its U.S. News and World Report ranking mid-month; Vanderbilt improved one position to return to No. 14 in a tie with Brown University.

VSG experienced problems in election certification from technical issues. These challenges would result in the Senate, who convened for an emergency meeting, later ruled illegitimate by the Judicial Court, passing legislation. Eventually, the technical issues were resolved, and the new senators were certified.

The Hustler first reported that Ken Seals was named starting quarterback; Ken Seals became third true freshman in SEC history to start at the position.

Immersion ceased as a graduation requirement for the Class of 2022. The university also shut down Spring 2021 Study Abroad due to COVID-19.

This eventful month ended as DivestVU made a call to administration to end investment in fossil fuels and student organizations experienced ‘Zoom-bombings.’ 

OCTOBER:

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ Month, which had been postponed from May, there was a Community Action Week with the hope of increasing both civic and general engagement from the Asian community on Vanderbilt’s campus. It concluded with Taste of Asia on Oct. 31 and students got to share some of their favorite cultural dishes with the larger Vanderbilt community.

Vanderbilt athletics enhanced preventative measures for sexual assault by expanding partnerships with Project Safe, the UCC and the Title IX office. Further meetings will be coordinated to help develop an advisory group to serve as resources for the athletics department.

The men’s golf team won the Vanderbilt Legends Collegiate Tournament, their first home tournament of the season. With a score of 265 on Monday and 277 on Tuesday combined with a finish of seven under par on the final day, Vanderbilt finished five strokes above second place and took home the championship.

Several students received notice that their Vault tests had falsely identified them as positive for COVID-19, which erroneously sent them into isolation and their close contacts into quarantine. Vault then disclosed plans for corrective action to ensure that this would not happen again. 

The start and end dates for the Spring 2021 semester were announced without any days for a break. Reading days and examinations were announced to happen from May 1-10. In light of the absence of a fall break, students began to petition for the university to grant them a mental health day during October as well.

After election ambiguities the month prior, VSG passed the Election Ambiguity Resolution Bill which helped authorize emergency sessions of the Senate, designated senator terms to end in the fall semester and called for the release of any election data.

The Vanderbilt community found out on Oct. 19 that surveillance testing would end on Nov. 10 and offer optional testing Nov. 16-18. 

Recreation & Wellness Center users were able to attend outdoor fitness classes that adhered to Vanderbilt’s COVID-19 guidelines throughout the Fall 2020 semester. Students had petitioned for the Rec to be reopened in September, but classes began on the fields in October with ten students or fewer at classes like Zumba and Pilates.

Vanderbilt’s original announcement on interim housing over Winter Break stated that students would be expected to pay $54.90 per day. A later community message clarified that Vanderbilt would not charge homeless students the daily fee and stated that the university would work with anyone to help them financially. Vanderbilt Alumni for Economic Justice petitioned the Office of the Chancellor in response and argued that the policy disproportionately affected marginalized students. The university stated that the housing policy was guided by decisions for public health, but alumni still threatened to withhold monetary donations as result.

The student-run Swipes for a Cause was shut down by administration following orders from Student Accountability at the end of the month. Student Accountability, Community Standards, and Academic Integrity cited privacy and password concerns in the decision to stop the unofficial organization’s operation.

NOVEMBER:

Vanderbilt beat Arkansas 3-1 to secure the first SEC tournament title since 1994. The women’s soccer team started out the season ranked fourth out of 14 teams in a preseason poll and ended up with a 4-4 record in the regular season followed by four more consecutive wins post-season.

On Nov. 3, the United States elected Joe Biden to be the 46th President of the United States. VCD and VCR published statements following the election discussing the results. VanryRide and VSG offered the community free rides to the polls for early voting in Davidson County on Oct. 22 and 24. These rides followed the largest-ever campus voter registration drive on Sept. 22 co-hosted by the Black Student Athlete Group and Vandy Votes. Nearby Belmont University hosted the last presidential debate before the election, which led to protests outside the university and the temporary closure of Proper Bagel during the event.

As a result of Nashville’s cooling temperatures, select dining halls offered a limited number of seats indoors. Time slots were limited to 20 minutes, and the pilot offered around 175 indoor dining seats.

Fall 2020’s only Chancellor’s Lecture Series event featured Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, who spoke on U.S. relations with Russia and China, among other things. The Zoom lecture was moderated by U.S. Elections professor Jon Meachem.

The Vanderbilt Programming Board virtually brought activist Angela Y. Davis to campus for a Q&A. Davis answered student questions on the election, the importance of international activism and spoke to the current racial climate in the United States.

The week of Nov. 16 saw Vanderbilt’s highest case count at 117 according to the university COVID-19 dashboard. This high occurred during the last week of mandatory testing and followed the weeks of Nov. 2 and Oct. 19, which had 110 and 100 cases respectively. 

The city of Nashville lowered the number of people allowed at gatherings to eight, so Vanderbilt did the same in turn. The campus stayed in Phase II+ of its reopening plan despite this change.

The Hustler was the first to report that Sarah Fuller was officially suiting up to play with the Commodores for the rest of their 2020 season. After practicing as a kicker for the team, she suited up for the kickoff against Missouri on Nov. 28. Fuller went on to become the first woman to score in a Power Five game as she scored an extra point against Tennessee.

After a 27-55 overall record, including a record 0-9 season, Derek Mason was fired and first-year offensive coordinator Todd Fitch was announced as an interim head coach. In a statement, Mason said that he was grateful for his time at Vanderbilt.

DECEMBER:

Fifth-year senior John Augenstein left the university’s men’s golf program to pursue a professional golf career. His additional time at Vanderbilt has been marked by playing at the Masters tournament, the third Vanderbilt golfer to play among the world’s best players as an amateur. 

Students found out that there would be four reading days in addition to the reading days already present at the end of the Spring 2021 semester. While still expected to attend class, the Ad Hoc Committee on Spring 2021 Wellness Days decided after meeting twice include Feb. 23-24 and April 7-8.

In December, students found out that COVID-19 testing and quarantine protocols would be different for the Spring 2021 semester. There will be no pre-arrival testing and students who miss their weekly COVID-19 test will no longer receive reminder emails. Asymptomatic close contacts, rather than completing a 14-day quarantine, will only have to quarantine for ten days.

After working with Moderna to help develop the COVID-19 vaccine, December saw the first vaccinations administered at VUMC to frontline-working hospital staff. Tennessee is currently in Phase 1A1 of its vaccine distribution plan with no timeline to move forward. 

Clark Lea was hired as Vanderbilt’s 29th head football coach. The alumnus served as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator for three years before returning to his alma mater.

Taylor Swift dropped her ninth studio album “evermore” as a follow-up to the surprise album “folklore” dropped in July. The folk-style album highlights her country roots and features songs with murderous subplots like “no body, no crime.”

Vanderbilt had its first winless season in history this past year. With no chance to redeem themselves after losing to Tennessee due to the cancellation of the game against Georgia, the football team finished out with a record of 0-9.

On Christmas morning, suicide bomber Anthony Quinn Warner detonated an RV full of explosives on Second Avenue. Quinn was the only life lost, but 41 businesses were physically damaged. Emergency lines, Wi-Fi and AT&T signal was down in the Nashville area for days after the blast, and the community continues to rebuild into the new year.

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