Editor’s note: Tyler Bishop is a junior at Vanderbilt University majoring in communication studies and political science. He is the director of InsideVandy, the university’s student-run online news and media outlet. He is on Twitter.
The typical hustle and bustle of a new school year is in full swing at Vanderbilt University, with new and returning students putting the final touches on dorm rooms and preparing for classes, which start this week. But this year, one thing stands out: Five of our suspended peers face charges, including rape, related to an incident that occurred this summer in the same dorm that 220 first-year students just moved into.
Vanderbilt encourages conversations about safe sex practices. As a student, it is difficult to escape a talk from Vandy SexEd or Green Dots or -- organizations that emphasize the importance of concepts like “no means no”-- so this is the kind of story that is especially painful to watch for the Vanderbilt community.
This case naturally raises questions about the direction of the Vanderbilt football program: Is the university sacrificing moral character for higher quality recruits? Is the culture of Vanderbilt Athletics potentially creating a feeling of invincibility among athletes?
Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin and the university maintain that standards for Vanderbilt student athletes remain among the highest and the program would never consider lowering these standards to make gains on the playing field.
“It’s never been that way in the past. It’s not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That’s not what we’re all about,” Franklin said in an exchange at the SEC Media Days press conference.
Generally speaking, support remains strong among students and Vanderbilt football fans. Simply walking across campus, you see students, parents and family members sporting fan gear. “Dore Jam,” an annual pre-season kick-off event, boasted its largest turnout ever this year. The actions of the former Commodores don’t seem to have diminished the growing excitement in the Vanderbilt spirit.
To many students, given the prominence and growing visibility of the issue, one question lingers: How will the university respond? The university administration declines to comment when asked about the effects of the case, so students have largely been left in the dark. The university has, however, increased security personnel in dorms on campus, and is requiring that all new students complete an online sexual awareness course this year.
As the case continues to unfold, we can expect conversations about sexual violence to become more prominent on campus. Still, in conversations with students, there is a distance from the unfolding story itself. While a vast majority of students are generally aware, it is not something that is dominating the mindset of many individuals on campus. Whisperings about the details of the incident are floating around and students are generally appalled by the allegations, but the mood on campus -- at least for students -- matches that of any other year.