Vanderbilt Students Scramble For Housing As Campus Closes

Originally posted March 20, 2020 for WPLN

Kirsten Bailey is a Vanderbilt senior currently living on the university’s mostly empty campus. She’s staying there as long she can – she has an internship in Brentwood, and her parents, back in Cincinnati, are immunocompromised. She worries about putting them at risk.  

She requested to remain on campus for the rest of the semester, but Vanderbilt said no.  

They told me that my parents being immunocompromised was not a good enough reason for me to stay and that as far as they were concerned, it was fine for me to move back home. 

So she turned to the financial aid office and asked for her housing money back. She was told the school is still figuring out how to handle refunds.  

“When I was talking to someone at housing, he was like, if I let you stay for this reason, then there’s going to be like X number of other students that I also have to let stay. 

She was given a one-week extension, during which she heard about an informal effort by Vanderbilt graduate students to connect displaced students with resources in Nashville. They’re offering food, transportation, spare rooms and even air mattresses to those trying to stay in the city.  

It’s unclear how many students are staying in Nashville, and Vanderbilt declined to say how many it’s allowing to live on campus.  

The university also declined to make anyone available for interview.  

In a statement, the school said it is allowing students with special circumstances, like issues with travel or visas, to stay. But Vanderbilt says thinning out density on campus was one step toward protecting public health.  

Other Middle Tennessee universities, including Belmont and Tennessee State, have also asked students to move off campus.  

As for Kirsten Bailey, she was able to secure housing with a graduate student in the Wedgewood neighborhood. 

I guess it speaks to, you know, just kind of the goodwill of students and how willing we all are,” Bailey said. “Because it’s grad students, it’s not like people that I know, it’s not like my friends. So it’s, I don’t know, it’s really cool that that exists and that’s a resource that they were willing to put together when they didn’t have to. 

Bailey plans to stay until May, long enough to finish her internship and safely isolate from other students before heading home.