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Vanderbilt Pro-Israel Student Group Denied Spot in Multicultural Delegation

Nine of the 11 organizations that have applied for membership in the Vanderbilt Multicultural Leadership Council this semester were granted entry, with one awaiting a vote. For the first time in at least the past few years, an organization — Vanderbilt’s newly established chapter of Students Supporting Israel — was denied entry, according to MLC President Zack Maaieh, a junior.

Maaieh was unsure if another organization has ever been denied to the MLC. 

Vanderbilt’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Taiwanese American Student Association were voted into the MLC in January, followed by Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Pride Serve, the Vanderbilt Association for South Asian Cuisine, the International Student Council, the Vanderbilt Iranian Student Association and oSTEM at Vanderbilt in February. The Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students was admitted to the MLC in March. 

Vanderbilt United Mission for Relief and Development has also applied to join the MLC, and voting will begin on their application on April 11.

Applications to join the MLC by prospective member organizations are voted upon by one representative from each member organization and each MLC executive board member. After applying to join, an organization’s application is shared with the representatives and executive board. Executive members of the prospective organization are then invited to an MLC meeting to answer questions about their organization, its mission and its desire to join the MLC.

A two-thirds majority is required for an organization to join the MLC. For the March election, 51 member organizations and 16 executive board members were eligible to vote; 46 members voted in the election. 

Before voting in March, Maaieh said the MLC representatives and executive board held a closed meeting “primarily” to discuss other items on the ballot — VSG candidate and amendment endorsement — as well as the prospective member organization applications. A closed meeting is required for endorsement voting by the MLC Constitution.  

Maaieh said voting was open for one day in March due to the number of items on the ballot; this time frame can change from election to election. 

Maaieh stated that prospective MLC member organization applications have nearly tripled this academic year compared to last year. He explained that this trend could be due to more student organizations being established this year than in years past and the MLC’s “appealing” and “welcoming” nature. Student Organizations, Leadership and Service Director DeAnte’ Smith did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on whether more student organizations have been created this year compared to previous years. 

“[The increase in prospective member organization applications is] a testament to the strength of the community we have built here on campus. All of our organizations support one another, either by attending each other’s events, sharing them or by uplifting one another’s voices,” Maaieh said. “Our community is incredibly diverse, yet we stand together when one is harmed.”

SSI President Ryan Bauman, a senior, said SSI is “appalled” by being denied entry to the MLC. Besides JVP, other MLC member organizations specifically related to the Israel-Palestine conflict include ‘Dores for Israel — which is part of Vanderbilt Hillel — and Vanderbilt’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine — a secular advocacy group.

“A council that aspires to promote interfaith, intercultural, informative dialogue and collaboration, that constantly promotes the notion of ‘Coexistence’ cannot coexist with students who support Israel,” Bauman said in a message to The Hustler. “We are sad that this is the state of our campus climate, but we are not surprised given recent events on campus.”

Bauman said he is hopeful that the MLC will change its mind on allowing SSI to join and “accept [SSI’s] olive branch.” SSI Vice President Maya Levinson, also a senior, said joining the MLC would increase SSI members’ ability to share their perspectives and would contribute to the MLC’s values of collaboration and cross-cultural dialogue. 

“The MLC is home to student groups with wide-ranging perspectives on Israel, and SSI offers unique perspectives that will enrich all members of the MLC,” Levinson said in a message to The Hustler. “Not only would SSI’s admission to the MLC enhance the diversity of the Council, but it will also provide our organization the benefit of learning from the diverse perspectives of the other member organizations.”

Maaieh explained that prospective member organizations can reapply for entry, but a revote would only occur with the prospective member organization resubmitting its application to join. He emphasized that the voting process is “not a bureaucratic decision.”

“Our council voted on it. The consideration of applications is done by the collective of our community, so if they [SSI] wish to understand the decision or have a different outcome in the future, they need to appeal to every member organization and board member that has a vote in that election,” Maaieh said in a message to The Hustler.

Maaieh declined to comment on how he voted on SSI’s application to join the MLC. He also declined to provide a list of representatives and executive board members who voted on SSI joining the MLC — as well as a list of those who voted against SSI — to ensure the “safety” of those who voted from. 

Junior Saksham Saksena serves as the president and founder of Vanderbilt Pride Serve — established earlier in Spring 2024 — and the co-president and co-founder of VASAC — established in Spring 2023, alongside junior Sagnik Yarlagadda. He stated that the MLC’s “track record” in accepting organizations is strong. 

“[The MLC has] taken basically everyone since most organizations who apply fit in very well with the MLC,” Saksena said. “From what I’ve heard, they basically vote everyone in because everyone is usually a good fit.” 

Leaders of JVP, Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Pride Serve and VASAC all stated that the application and approval process to join the MLC was straightforward for their organizations. The former president of JVP, who is being kept anonymous for protection from professional retribution, stated that JVP’s acceptance to the MLC was “logical” to them.

“MLC is made up of groups that are traditionally marginalized or less advocated for, and I think those types of people can sympathize with the Palestinian cause because it’s a cause of unheard and underrepresented people,” the former JVP president said. 

The former JVP president said joining the MLC will help JVP work toward its goal of advocating for Palestinian freedom and raising awareness of the diversity of Jewish views on the State of Israel. JVP became a registered student organization at Vanderbilt in early October 2023, before Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“Being in the MLC provides access to organizations that we wouldn’t have even known existed or wouldn’t have known who their president was, so it opens the door to collaboration, and with that collaboration comes more conversation,” the former JVP president said. “People understand the diversity of opinion that exists if they didn’t understand that before.” 

Junior Salwa Daouk, president of Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Vanderbilt, also stated that her organization is excited to collaborate with other MLC organizations. Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Vanderbilt became a registered student organization in the 2022-23 academic year.

“I’m excited for the potential to get to work with other organizations within the MLC that also have to do with similar populations of Latinas and to be able to have that network,” Daouk said. “There’s a lot of potential.”

Saksena said his organizations and the MLC’s shared interest in increasing campus inclusivity inspired his organizations to try to join. He echoed his interest in collaborating with other MLC organizations and using the Multicultural Community Space on campus, among other benefits of being part of the MLC. 

“Both organizations are really key in raising inclusivity on campus, and MLC fits in really well with our goals. It was a clear choice for us to try to join their organization [the MLC] to both complement our own missions and help work toward their mission as well,” Saksena said. 

Parker Smith contributed reporting to this piece.