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Why Does Vanderbilt Continue to Fail Black Women

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Vanderbilt chapter.

TW: Sexual Assault/Rape

“Hearing about Michael Eric Dyson’s hiring at Vanderbilt despite his past allegations of sexual misconduct is very disappointing given the events of this summer. When Black women came forward this summer with their experiences of sexual assault, it felt like a moment of solidarity and the potential to push forward to create a safer campus for Black women. This hiring feels like one of many setbacks that we Black women have to fight against to feel comfortable on this campus. I hope that Vanderbilt will start to make better choices to protect their Black female students.” – Member of the Vanderbilt Black Women Community

This summer, multiple Black Vanderbilt women came forward and shared their stories of being sexually assaulted and raped by Vanderbilt Football players. Calls were made to fire Derek Mason, the former head coach of Vanderbilt Football, for failing to hold his players accountable for their heinous actions. A petition was created by myself and three other women demanding change from both athletics and the university. This petition gained over 800 signatures. Hours of work, thousands of tears, endless frustration, anger, and pain were seen as we battled for justice. Justice not just for ourselves, but for others who experienced pain like ours, pain worse than ours.

Finally, at the end of the season, Athletic Director Candice Lee fired Derek Mason and the whole coaching staff. Positive change seemed to be in sight. However, the progress Vanderbilt students had accomplished was erased when the University decided to hire Michael Eric Dyson on September 28, 2020, who was accused by multiple Black fems at Georgetown University of sexual misconduct. Vanderbilt University, in ending one problem, was willingly choosing to bring in another threat to the safety of Black women on campus.

On February 28, 2020, the Black Survivors Coalition at Georgetown University and other Georgetown University students gathered for the final day of a sit-in protest. They warned Georgetown’s President John DeGioia and administrators that Michael Eric Dyson was a professor who subjected students to acts of sexual misconduct. This exchange between students of the Black Survivors Coalition and the administration was all caught on video. Michael Eric Dyson, now a former professor at Georgetown University, went through a full Title IX investigation. During the process, students who were directly affected by Dyson’s actions and those who demanded accountability were constantly left in the dark. On April 17th, members of the Black Survivors Coalition met with Georgetown Administration to demand updates. They were told “we have had a lot of progress on the faculty member” by Rosemary Kilkenny, who serves as the head of Diversity and Inclusion. This response did not answer the questions asked. It did not calm the anxiety and fear students had. It did not say that Georgetown is protecting its students. It was an empty response. Hearing this as a Vanderbilt student, I felt their pain. It took me back to the pain from this summer. The anger was awakened. The frustration renewed. The sting of betrayal became a dull stab as I came to terms that once again Vanderbilt was failing to protect Black women. To protect me.

At the conclusion of the Title IX investigation, Georgetown University informed its student body that Michael Eric Dyson would not be teaching during the 2020 Fall semester. While this definitely brings a small sigh of relief, I can only imagine the fear many students felt when wondering about what would happen after Fall of 2020. The students at Georgetown must’ve felt the same, as on September 15, the Black Survivors Coalition met with the Georgetown Administration. During this meeting, the administration was adamant that this would remain a private matter and they would not be sharing further information. The following day, it was announced Michael Eric Dyson would not be teaching during the Spring semester.

The accusation of Michael Eric Dyson committing sexual misconduct is public. The announcement of the Title IX investigation is public. Georgetown’s decision to not allow him to teach during the Fall and Spring is public. 

But on September 28, 2020, Vanderbilt University made public that they decided to hire Michael Eric Dyson.

Why Vanderbilt University, more importantly, why Vanderbilt University’s African American & Diaspora Studies and Divinity School brought this man to our campus is beyond my comprehension. Why were they so set on bringing a professor accused of sexual misconduct onto our campus? We as a Vanderbilt community just fought through the pain the Derek Mason football team inflicted on our campus. We had to relive the James Franklin infamous rape case of 2013. Now we have to once again find a way to fight against and protect our students from another sexual predator. 

My heart truly aches for my Vanderbilt community and for those who survived what Michael Eric Dyson did to them. I question the Vanderbilt Administration for allowing somebody like Michael Eric Dyson to work on our campus and with students. Do they truly care about our safety, or was this done for boosting Vanderbilt’s prestige? Vanderbilt cannot deny what Michael Eric Dyson has been accused of doing. If I, a student, can find out about these atrocities, there is no way their hiring committee could not.

While I do not know what the future holds for Michael Eric Dyson at Vanderbilt, I do know that I have an abundance of fear for me and my fellow black fem students. 


Below is the video from the sit-in held by the Black Survivors Coalition.

Via Black Survivors Coalition

Here is a link to the video if it does not show above: https://youtu.be/Gg1Xy1HiWEg

Madison Edwards

Vanderbilt '21

Madison is a Campus Trendsetter and Campus Correspondent. She is currently majoring in Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University. Madison enjoys traveling and trying new foods, and can always be found drinking a good cup of coffee :)