Art and Politics: How a Broadway rap star brought peace to a grieving campus


Lindsay Williams

Walking around Vanderbilt’s campus on Wednesday, November 9th felt like being at a funeral. Students walked slowly with hunched shoulders, and many eyes were filled with tears in reaction to what many thought was impossible: Donald Trump being elected president. That evening, many Vanderbilt students turned to an unlikely source for solace and answers: Daveed Diggs, the famous rapper who starred as Thomas Jefferson in the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Diggs is known for his work on “Hamilton: An American Musical,” which opened on Broadway in August 2015. In July, however, Diggs retired from Hamilton. The actor now works as a recurring cast member in ABC’s “Blackish” and performs with his rap band Clipping. On the night of November 9th, Diggs spoke and answered questions from students in Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium.

In his conversation with Vanderbilt students, Diggs spoke to the problems of division and hate in this country. He spoke of his own election night experience, during which he left a watch party early after realizing how close the election was going to be. After the election results were revealed, Diggs, like the majority of the nation, was surprised. However, the actor emphasized that, to him, the problem was not who won the election but rather how Americans were failing to listen to each other’s concerns and come together to solve them. As Diggs described, “Policy affects us slowly; it doesn’t affect us every day as we walk out our door. But this divisiveness between us and our neighbor does.”

Many members of the Vanderbilt community feel the sting of the election’s outcome, but Diggs brought some context to that feeling. His message was that, while it may seem to some that things could not be worse, we should be hopeful and active in using our voices in whatever ways we can. Students found comfort in his message. As Vanderbilt University Speakers Committee member Sahar Abdullah stated, “I believe his words provided a great deal of assurance to the Vanderbilt community that we are all members of one community and we must continue to work together to resolve differences.”

For a brief moment, Diggs brought peace to the minds of Vanderbilt Students. “I thought he did a great job of making political activism tangible. He really emphasized the power we have by simply doing. Whether that be in theater or screen writing, it all has an impact in the community we want to live in,” sophomore Jennifer Pema said. One can only hope that Digg’s wisdom reverberates throughout Vanderbilt so that our community may heal the divides on our campus and in our country.