Chancellors Zeppos and Williams,
The very first moment I stepped onto Vanderbilt's campus as a seventeen year old, I knew it was the place for me. It was a new beginning for me in many ways, and the beginning of a new life full of opportunities with some fantastic people. Just a few months later, I was a Freshman and starting on a long journey which would end up with me graduating from Vanderbilt, getting a PhD in astrophysics from LSU, a prestigious postdoc, and eventually get work in the private sector.
Vanderbilt University was very much the start of the path of my adult life. Being around such driven, but versatile students was absolutely phenomenal. I loved that while Vanderbilt students are extremely hard workers, they also know how to have a life outside of work. Vanderbilt is very special in this regard as it's not nearly as stuffy as you'd expect a school of its academic rigor to be. We’re students who have world class educations, but were not the types to snub recreation that all people enjoy.
Some of my fondest memories are at Vanderbilt sporting events. For every football home game, I painted myself head to toe in black and gold (half and half). I, and many other students, loved our team through thick and thin. We had our tailgates, our early arrivals, our cheers, our jeers, our heartbreaks, our triumphs. It was a blast. I made some lifelong friendships and memories through those times.
A piece of the goalposts we tore down when we beat UK my Sophomore year sits on my desk. I have a picture from senior year of a throng of Vandy faithful holding the “BELIEVE!” sign (which was later used for a football calendar). I remember all the times the SEC Officials warned the “Vandy Fanatics” to stop yelling at them. I remember burning myself countless times on a giant grill we and other students had set up on the lawn opposite Hawkins Field. I remember herding students to the game to show our team support. I remember crushing Mississippi St., and I remember losing to GT in OT. I could go on forever...
...but now Vanderbilt seems content to destroy that. Content to destroy the fun of having a football team on campus all for another building or residential college. The opinions of the fans that have actually supported this team though the years and decades seen as nothing more than chatter. I’ve read the articles, I’ve talked with fans, the overwhelming majority of us do not want football moved off campus. Yet it seems a foregone conclusion.
While it may seem like it, these memories couldn’t just happen anywhere. Because 90% of the memories are in the atmosphere itself. Yes, Dudley isn’t the greatest venue. Our students aren’t terribly supportive, but that could be fixed by winning more games. In the end though, it does mean something to have football on campus. It means more than something that should just be bartered away to reclaim some land. For the students that do care, there’s something about being able to roll out of bed and into a tailgate and into the game. Above that, a huge part of going back as an alumni is to see how campus is now. How has it changed? How has it stayed the same? It’s about sharing memories with friends and family. It’s so much more than a football game. It’s about sharing our lives and memories together. It’s about showing loved ones a piece of yourself and making them a part of the story.
While I am perfectly content to keep Dudley as is for now, I concede there are places the stadium could use improvement. I covered a few of these things in my previous column speaking against moving off campus. Maybe the cost of improvements is so great that we might as well build a new stadium. If that is the case, the better solution is to demolish Dudley and build a new stadium at the same site. That will likely result in a season or two off campus, but that is infinitely preferable to permanently off campus. The fact of the matter is the fans vastly prefer keeping football on campus. We’re not the only ones who have found this; I’m sure you’ve been reading the unending critiques from fans in The Tennessean.
Between what little we’ve heard from the administration and the push-poll sent out to fans, the move off campus seems like a foregone conclusion. You advertised a whole bunch of amenities that would be at a “new stadium” but oops, turns out it’s off campus. Congratulations, you can claim that you’re giving the fans what they want in a new stadium, while casually ignoring that the majority of us want to keep football on campus. It seems like Vanderbilt sees an opportunity to get a new stadium for free and reclaim land for its own purposes. Though I shudder to think what kind of building you think is so important that you’ll spit on the memories of decades of fans to construct it.
In taking this action, you confirm all the stereotypes about Vanderbilt. You’ll be confirming that Vanderbilt leadership doesn’t give a rip about college football. You’ll be confirming that you’re snobs that see it as “beneath” us and that you see college football as dirtying ourselves. You’ll be confirming that all you care about is this residential college kick. You’ll be confirming that you see those of us that enjoy football as little more than stupid peasants to be dictated to. How did we go from promises of a rocket ship to this?
I’m sure you think you have some great idea of where this will lead Vanderbilt. Maybe it’s some new dorm, maybe it’s some new specialty building, I really don’t care. I say no thank you. If your vision of Vanderbilt includes the destruction of something I hold very dear, then I want no part in it. Feel free to dismiss me as being “resistant to change” or just being too naïve to see your glorious vision; you seem to have not cared what the fans think this far.
Nonetheless, I have no choice but to hope you will listen to me in this, my final plea. I supplicate you, please, do not take away the on campus football experience from Vanderbilt. Please.