Dores gives ina group that defenders for Vanderbilt to divest from fossil fuels, staged a protest during Chancellor Daniel Diermeier’s speech at Founders Walk on August 21. traditional The event was also more formal than previous years in a bid to mimic the launch.
At Founders Walk, new students sat at Alumni Lawn and were referred by several university administrators, including Diermeier and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver. Student body president Amisha Mittal, a senior, also addressed the students.
At the start of Diermeier’s speech, a group of student protesters from Dores Divest marched silently along the Alumni Lawn, holding a sign that read “Chancellor Takes Oil Money.” A second group of morph-suited protesters appeared midway through Diermeier’s speech. Holding a sign that read “Vandy Divest Fossil Fuels,” they ran briefly past the stage. Similar to their demonstration at last year’s founders walk, they also handed out pamphlets to students.
A university representative told The Hustler that the university was aware of the protest and shared guidance with the group regarding areas in which they could protest under the university’s freedom of speech. Politics. In an Aug. 19 email to Dores Divest obtained by The Hustler, the assistant dean for community standards and student support, Neil Jamerson, sent a map showing areas where protests were not permitted, areas where silent protests were allowed and areas where protests with “non-disruptive noise were allowed.
“Protesters at the event who are deemed to have acted within the guidelines will not be subject to disciplinary action,” the email reads.
Miguel Moravec, Graduate Student Council president and third-year graduate student, was detained for allegedly violating the university’s protest policies. He said the purpose of the disruption was to introduce new students to the mission of Dores Divest and Diermeier’s alleged “inappropriate business dealings” with the fossil fuel industry. Moravec also said he acknowledges the guidelines the university had in place before the event, but “accepts the personal risk” associated with not following them.
“It seems to me that the ‘protest-free’ zones designated for Founders Walk this year were designed explicitly to prevent protesters from spoiling the University’s photo op of the event,” Moravec said. “[We] decided to continue anyway, not only to promote dialogue about the university’s role in climate change, but also to invite conversations about the role of free speech on our beloved campus.
At least two students, including Moravec, who allegedly violated these guidelines were briefly detained and reported to Responsibility of students by VUPD officers; none were arrested. These students violated guidelines by crossing the alumni lawn in front of the stage with a sign. The university declined to disclose the number of students detained and sent to student responsibility. Moravec said that in addition to himself, he was aware of two other students who were referred to student responsibility following an alleged violation of protest guidelines at Founders Walk.
“While I normally had positive interactions with the VUPD, I was surprised at how quickly the officers on site used physical force to detain us. A police officer on a bicycle chased me and threatened to taze me if I didn’t stop,” Moravec said. “I surrendered and was released without incident afterwards.”
VUPD did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment.
According to Moravec, an administrator asked if he was a university employee shortly after the disruption. The university did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment regarding the subject matter of this question.
“When I said yes, he told me to wait for a call from HR, I suspect to freeze my allowance,” Moravec said. “This would be my second and only other case of student accountability, the other instance of which also involved peaceful climate activism.”
Junior Annabelle Littlejohn-Bailey – a writer for The Hustler – said she was stopped by a VUPD officer before Founders Walk while carrying a sign for the Native American Student Organization (ISO) near McGill Hall – her residence hall and the place where Dores Divest met before the event. She said the officer demanded to see her poster and threatened to use the Commodore card records to identify her if she didn’t do it herself. According to Littlejohn-Bailey, the officer also called her peers for help and called her “uncooperative” when she didn’t immediately show him the sign. She also said a university representative later apologized for the actions of the VUPD officer.
“Even if I protest, I have the right to go to my dorm or even stand outside my dorm and carry a sign,” Littlejohn-Bailey said. “[The university] say[s] they promote freedom of speech, but as soon as someone is carrying a sign, it’s just not cool.
Sophomore Luke Calhoon was also arrested by the VUPD on his way to McGill Hall ahead of Founders Walk. Calhoon said the officer asked to see his student ID, questioned him about why he was wearing an orange hat – a signature accessory of Dores Divest – and asked him if he was a member of Dores Divest. The officer also asked if Calhoon knew where Dores Divest was meeting before the event.
The university’s representative said in a statement to The Hustler that the university is committed to free speech and working to address climate change in ways that don’t affect endowment.
“We are committed to freedom of expression and believe that differences of opinion and diverse perspectives are fundamental to education and discovery,” the email reads. “Climate change is a topic we take seriously and continue to address directly by identifying innovative solutions, reducing our carbon footprint and investing significant funds and capacity in renewable energy and emission reduction strategies. .”
Diermeier had an open conversation about free speech with Tiffiny Tung, Vice-Rector for Undergraduate Education and Jacob Mchangama, Free Expression Specialist August 22.
“Our commitment to freedom of expression has become all the more critical as we have weathered recent crises, upheavals and difficulties reverberating around the world,” Diermeier said in an Aug. 24 email to students. “Given the intense division that permeates politics today, we believe it is our duty to protect free speech within our community.”
The university representative also reiterated previous Remarks by Diermeier and Raver at protesters’ demand that the university turn over its endowment to fossil fuel companies.
“Our endowment is not an advocacy tool,” the email read. “Its sole purpose is and should be to support our students and faculty.”
Like the Dores Divest demonstration At last year’s Founders Walk, freshmen had mixed reactions to this year’s protest. Freshman Ellie Armstrong said the protest contributed to a lack of seriousness for the event among the Class of 2026.
“I feel like the Founders March was already lacking in seriousness for a lot of freshmen there, so all the ‘excitement’ of the protest only added to crippling everyone already the legitimacy of the evening,” Armstrong said in a message to The Hustler.
First-year Hunter Reichel said he felt the protest should have happened at a different time.
“I think, like all things, there is a time and a place,” Reichel said. “I understand that the organization wanted to bring attention to an issue important to them, but if they really want progress to happen, they must be willing to respect the ceremonies and the faculty of the university.”
Isabella Backus, another freshman, added that the protest was unclear in communicating how students could support the organization’s efforts.
“I thought it was very interesting, but honestly, they went too fast for most undergraduates to read what the panel said,” Backus said.
New formality of the Founders Walk
Founders Walk also had a new, more formal format this year. The event was structured in reverse order to that of previous years, with a ceremony followed by a celebration with representatives of various student organizations. Unlike previous years, students were not allowed to run in the aisle of student organizations. Students were also asked to dress in casual attire, and faculty, administrators, and student lecturers wore their badges.
“This year, the Founders Walk Ceremony is taking on a more formal tone to mark the event as an official welcoming tradition for incoming students,” a university representative said. “This year’s event is also designed to end with Commencement, with Founders Walk opening our undergraduates’ time at Vanderbilt, and Commencement marking its end. Like Beginning, Founders Walk will now begin with a procession, an official ceremony and will end with a great celebration.
Freshman Sydney Grossman first discovered Founders Walk during CommonVU Orientation and said she had been looking forward to the event, whatever its new format.
“It’s super exciting and a really important part of feeling at home in Vandy,” Grossman said.
Sophomore Evelyn Marx also said she liked how Founders Walk was more formal this year.
“I think that made it a more special tradition for the incoming class, and I think that made it more memorable and exciting,” Marx said.
Abhinav Krishnan and Eigen Escario contributed reporting for this article.