Nashville noise

Four Vanderbilt students arrested, charged with assault, vandalism over anti-Israel activity

Over 20 students took over the Chancellor’s office, forcibly occupying the building


Vanderbilt University students forcibly enter the university’s main administration building, March 26, 2024

Four Vanderbilt University students were arrested on Wednesday morning after staging a sit-in at the university’s main administration building for nearly 24 hours, demanding that the Tennessee school divest from companies that operate in Israel. 

Local Nashville police charged three students with Class A misdemeanor assault after pushing a community service officer and a Vanderbilt faculty member who offered to meet with them as they rushed Kirkland Hall on Tuesday, a Vanderbilt spokesperson told Jewish Insider. A fourth student has been charged with vandalism after breaking a window on the building’s exterior on Tuesday night.

Some two dozen students who participated in the protest inside Kirkland Hall — nearly all of them donning masks — took over Chancellor Daniel Diermeier’s office, located in Kirkland. They eventually were removed early Wednesday morning after forcibly entering the building shortly after 9 a.m. the previous day.

All of the protest participants who breached the building will be placed on interim suspension, the Vanderbilt spokesperson said. During the sit-in, a protester dialed 911, claiming that their friend would experience toxic shock syndrome due to not being able to leave to change her tampon, out of fear of getting arrested. Video footage shows administrators confirming that the student would not be arrested for leaving to use a bathroom. 

A reporter for the alternative weekly Nashville Scene, Eli Motycka, was detained outside the building after making repeated attempts to enter several locked doors and being asked to leave. He was later released, and not charged.

The demonstration, organized by the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition, was a response to the administration’s move to quash a first-time BDS referendum, scheduled to take place on Monday; administrators said that a boycott of Israel would violate Tennessee state law and jeopardize the state and federal funding the school receives. 

Vanderbilt is among several universities that have traditionally been quiet regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but are suddenly seeing their first-ever anti-Israel activity, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, in the months after the Oct. 7 terror attacks and the start of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Ryan Bauman, a fourth-year student who is the founder and president of Vanderbilt’s Students Supporting Israel chapter, called the events that took place on campus “worrisome.” 

“The blatant disregard for civility, rules, laws and the assault on an innocent security guard are all signs that prove we are headed in the wrong direction,” Bauman told JI. “If we can’t even come together to have a civil dialogue where we can acknowledge each other, then we are doomed. And unfortunately, that is what we are seeing here on campus.” 

Vanderbilt Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Rothstein told JI that the sit-in “is very uncharacteristic” for the campus, noting that this was the first time he’s seen something like it. 

“I think the administration has handled this thoughtfully and appropriately so far,” Rothstein continued. “The litmus test will be how the campus looks and feels going forward. I am hopeful.”

The protest continued throughout Wednesday morning outside of Kirkland. 

“The university will work with them to ensure they can remain consistent with the university’s policies for peaceful demonstration,” the Vanderbilt spokesperson said in a statement, adding that “free expression is a core value at Vanderbilt, as is civil discourse. Our policies allow for members of the Vanderbilt community to protest and demonstrate regarding issues they care deeply about. Dozens of peaceful demonstrations have occurred over the past several months. In consideration of safety and the university’s normal operations, we, as a matter of policy, define time, place and manner limitations… 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.” 

In a March 24 email, 39 Vanderbilt professors wrote to Diermeier that they were “deeply troubled” by the university’s decision to remove the BDS amendment.   

Bauman added, “Jewish students are scared; Zionist students are marginalized; and everyone is tense. Having to constantly validate our existence is tiring, but we will do it for as long as we need to.” 

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.