Allie Gross, Vanderbilt Hustler, November 18, 2015
Frank Dobson, Director of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and Assistant Dean, has busy Tuesday nights. Yesterday, he was in between his last Visions session, an RA meeting and Gillette Gelato when he got a phone call from a grad student working at the BCC.
“Dr. Dobson, you need to get over here, now.” At around 6 p.m., he rushed over to find a VUPD lieutenant who was drawing up a report. The graduate student had found a bag of feces on the porch of the BCC.
The feces had been out on the porch all day. Dobson passed it on his way into the office, assuming that the building’s cleaning staff would take care of the bag. Then, one student opened it up, saw that it was feces, and called Vanderbilt University Police Department (VUPD).
Dobson immediately emailed Dean of Students Mark Bandas, who quickly arrived at the BCC along with Tina Smith, Director of the Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence. At the time, Dobson declined to comment to the Hustler, saying that he wanted to wait for VUPD to investigate.
But meanwhile, news of the incident had already spread to the student body. The day before, Hidden Dores–a student group focused on illuminating minority experiences at Vanderbilt–had led a protest, at which almost 200 students signed and hand-delivered a list of demands for action on racism to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos. The protest was organized in the wake of similar issues being raised on other college campuses.
Outraged at what they perceived as a hate crime following the protest, Hidden Dores took to social media to condemn the perpetrator. Hidden Dores issued a statement on Facebook, calling the feces on the porch “deplorable.”
“This act has hurt many and will not be received lightly,” it continued. “We will not allow for the desecration of the place we call home. As we announced yesterday and reaffirm today, we will not be silent.” This original message has since been removed from the Hidden Dores page–saying they wanted to “contain the situation.”
At around 8 p.m., Dobson got another call from VUPD. VUPD had reviewed the recent footage from the BCC’s security cameras, and found that the feces had not been placed on the porch as a hate crime–rather, it had been left there inadvertently the night before by a visually impaired Vanderbilt student who was cleaning up after her guide dog.
Junior Stephanie Zundel was meeting a group of students to study for her sociology class at the BCC on Monday night. When her service dog relieved herself on the BCC lawn, Zundel did what she always does when she doesn’t know where the garbage cans are located–Zundel cleaned up the mess and left it by the nearest building, which happened to be the BCC.
Zundel also received a call from the Lieutenant at VUPD, who called her after reviewing the footage. She didn’t know about the Hidden Dores statement–which had gone viral on students’ social media by that point–until her roommates told her.
“I went on Hidden Dores and I read it,” Zundel said. “I actually think that Hidden Dores should post things on that page, I think the page is a great resource, and I think they definitely should be vocal, I’m not saying anything against that. The thing that bothered me and upset me was that the post was written very extreme, and what happened was they wrote it without any investigation. So there were a lot of assumptions being made.”
At 11:28 p.m., the university released a statement explaining that VUPD concluded “that there was no criminal or malicious intent in this action, and the investigation is considered closed.” Zundel commented on the post and contacted the Hustler to clarify what had happened. Hidden Dores quickly removed the initial statement and replaced it with another, saying the group had apologized to Zundel.