Students protest homecoming queen vote

No African Americans among 10 finalists

by Skip Anderson

Photo by Skip Anderson

Photographs of the minority women who were not selected as finalists were displayed near voting booths by protesters.

A group of predominantly minority students encouraged classmates to boycott the vote for homecoming queen at Sarratt Student Center Oct. 4. The protest was organized to bring attention to the homecoming queen selection process which led to the nomination of 10 finalists, none of whom were African American.

"What we're looking to do is create a disparity between the number of people who vote for the men and those who vote for women," said Byron Bonaparte, a senior engineering student from Marietta, Ga. "If we boycotted the entire election, then we would just appear to be apathetic."

Of the 10 finalists for homecoming king, five are African American. Eleven of the 31 women interviewed were minority, according to protesters.

Organizers expressed concern with what they described as a lack of consistency in the questions asked during the interview process in which each nominee participates. Some minority participants reported being asked as many as seven questions, others as few as two. The scope of the questions was also a concern.

"The questions had nothing to do with what I do at Vanderbilt," said Denise Irizarry, a senior studying Human and Organizational Development. She is a Posse Scholar of Hispanic descent who is from the Bronx, N.Y. "They asked questions like, 'How long did it take to acclimate to the school?' They [also] asked about me attending a public school. I don't think my public education has anything to do with being a representative of the University."

Protesters encouraged classmates in line to sign a petition while they waited to vote for homecoming finalists.

"The process needs to be evaluated," said LaToya Miller, a senior English major from Atlanta, who was a candidate for homecoming queen. "We need rules and regulations. There are loopholes in the process, and there needs to be set standards."

The 10-member panel of judges -- all Vanderbilt alumni -- included men and women from African-American and Caucasian heritage.

"One way to fix this is to have a Miss America-style interview process," said Bonaparte. "The questions should be determined beforehand, and asked randomly."

Shortly thereafter, a group of 50 or so students -- all minority -- marched from Sarratt to Kirkland Hall, to deliver the petition to David Williams II, vice chancellor, general counsel and professor of law, near the exterior steps of Kirkland Hall. Some of the students chanted, "Diversity must increase," during the short walk between buildings.

After receiving the petition, Williams -- who also serves as interim vice chancellor for student life -- told the students that he has already requested a list of the questions asked by the judges.

"Every one of you will be given the opportunity to participate in the discussions that will soon take place," said Williams.

Before the students disbanded, Williams said he and Chancellor Gordon Gee shared many of their concerns related to the need for more diversity.

"I guarantee we will follow up with this," he said.

The homecoming king and queen will be announced Oct. 13 at halftime of the football game against the University of Georgia.

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