Highland Quadrangle, as photographed on Nov. 20, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Elle Choi) (Elle Choi)
Highland Quadrangle, as photographed on Nov. 20, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Elle Choi)

Elle Choi

Sophomore Ruth Aklilu passes away

Ruth Aklilu was a student in the College of Arts and Science, heavily involved in campus life and remembered by her peers for her passion and selflessness.

January 6, 2022

Sophomore Ruth Aklilu passed away on the morning of Jan. 4, 2022, per a Jan. 5 email from Dean of Students G.L. Black. 

Aklilu was a student in the College of Arts and Science studying philosophy and history. She was involved in a multitude of activities on campus, such as Dores Divest, the Vanderbilt Prison Project, Studio V, Vanderbilt Effective Altruism, the Mayfield experience and more. Aklilu also ran a support-based Instagram page for fellow Vanderbilt students who may struggle with stress and mental-health-related issues. 

As a committed organizer for Dores Divest, Aklilu tirelessly championed environmental justice, especially within her family’s country of Ethiopia which is deeply affected by climate change. She shared in a Nov. 5, 2021, Dores Divest Instagram post that her time in Ethiopia when she was young motivated her to start such advocacy.

Ruth Aklilu at a Dores Divest protest, holding a handwritten sign that states “Our Future"
Ruth Aklilu at a Dores Divest protest, holding a handwritten sign that states “Our Future,” as photographed on April 22, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

“My family and people have no way of escaping the detrimental effects of climate change,” Aklilu wrote in the post. 

Dores Divest shared an Instagram post on Jan. 6 to commemorate Aklilu. Miguel Moravec, graduate student and a leader of Dores Divest spoke highly about Aklilu in a message to The Hustler. 

“Since she joined last year, Ruth was always out front at protests and ever so thoughtful about how to make our demonstrations more beautiful and true to nature,” Moravec said. “She adored animals (especially her stuffed Elephant, Elliot) and shared face paint at our Wyatt protest so we could acknowledge the animals impacted by climate change.” 

Moravec described Aklilu as someone who went above and beyond in everything she did, especially in relation to Dores Divest, evident by how she continuously reached out to leaders in the Nashville community who support climate justice action. 

Aklilu during the Founders Walk earlier this year, holding a handwritten sign titled “Welcome 2025” as a part of a Dores Divest protest
Aklilu during the Founders Walk earlier this year, holding a handwritten sign titled “Welcome 2025” as a part of a Dores Divest protest, as photographed on Aug. 22, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/ Emery Little)

“Ruth was truly the heart of Divest’s enthusiasm,” Moravec said. “While we’ll never be whole without her, I hope she knows she succeeded in making our community more beautiful, not just with her ideas, but with her tenacity and unconditional kindness for all living things.” 

Anjay Freidman, senior and president of Effective Altruism, said in a message to The Hustler that Aklilu had a desire to pursue a meaningful life and career. 

“She seemed to possess a unique presence, becoming captivated by nature easily & the world around her,” Freidman said. “She has genuinely been and will continue to be a source of inspiration for me as I try to realize my own Effective Altruist ambitions.” 

Moravec created a GroupMe chat to plan a vigil for Aklilu following students’ return to campus, and he invited others to join. 

To conclude his email, Black listed various resources that Vanderbilt students can utilize as they process and grieve. The resources listed include the University Counseling Center, the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, the Center for Student Well-Being as well as the university’s GriefNet service, which provides a group space for individuals to cope with loss. 

“This is a terrible loss for our community. Should you need support in processing this difficult news, we encourage you to seek assistance,” the email reads. 

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Comments (3)

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G
Gezahegn Shirmeka
14 hours ago

Really, we lost a bright featured, young and fast growing personality. Let her soul rest in heaven.

C
Calvin Landers
13 days ago

How did she pass?

J
Josh
15 days ago

Rest in power, Ruth. We will miss you and everything you brought to the Vanderbilt community.