Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Five Students Begin Hunger Strike Today

Five Students Begin Hunger Strike Today
By Laura Schreiber
Web Feature

A timeline of hunger strikes on college campuses nationwide. Click here to view the feature.

Beginning today, five Columbia students will go on a hunger strike to protest the University’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville, administrative responses to recent bias incidents, and a lack of resources for ethnic studies.

The strikers said that the protest will begin at noon today and will continue until the University meets their demands. The list was first announced last week in a statement released by the ad hoc coalition.

“We strike because we want the administration to understand that these needs are as fundamental to students’ intellectual lives as food is to the human body,” one striker said in a statement. Organizers of the strike have also launched a blog to track their efforts and demands.
The strikers, who attended weigh-in Wednesday, were identified as Bryan Mercer, CC '07, Emilie Rosenblatt, CC '08, Victoria Ruiz, CC '09, Aretha Choi, BC '10, and Sam Barron, BC '10. Earlier reports had said that six students would participate in the strike, but the number was later reduced to five.

Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nick Dirks has offered to hire of three senior professors for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in response to the strikers’ demands. He is scheduled to discuss the issue further with students this morning.

Other reforms the strikers aim for include changes to the Core Curriculum and expansion of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Members of the coalition said they also hoped to improve communication between students and administrators. “In the past, people have been really disenfranchised by the process of negotiations,” Kate Miles, BC ’10 and a member of the coalition, said. “One of our goals is to make the administration more accountable for this—to not have this happening behind curtains.”

Andrew Tillet–Saks, CC ’09 and a member of the coalition, said that the decision to strike came out of the exhaustion of other, less extreme attempts for change. “Other tactics have been tried for many, many years and many, many times and the change hasn’t come so we’re trying something new and a bit more severe,” he said. “Only time will tell if it’s the best option, but at the moment I think we need something at this level of escalation.”

University spokeswoman LaVerna Fountain wrote in a statement Tuesday night that Columbia’s foremost concern regarding the protest was the health of the students involved.

“Columbia supports the right of public protest by students but has a concern first and foremost for their health and safety, as well as a responsibility to their our health services will closely monitor the situation,” she wrote.

Columbia University Health Services has agreed to check the strikers’ vital signs each day of the strike.

On Wednesday afternoon, Barnard President Judith Shapiro released a statement detailing current and past efforts by the college to address areas of concern for the strikers.

"While hunger strikes have a long and important history as a form of political action, they are not without their dangers and may not always be a necessary strategy in a particular situation," Shapiro said. "I am hoping that we can together strengthen our efforts to making the changes we need to make in our community."

“We strike because student input on these issues in meetings [with administrators], through protests, and through other avenues of vocalization has been ignored or patronized, and the response to our demands for change has been woefully insufficient,” another striker said in a statement.

The announcement follows a string of bias incidents that have occurred on campus this semester, including the hanging of a noose on the door of a black Teacher’s College professor, the spray-painting of a swastika on a Jewish TC professor’s door, and the discovery of anti-Semitic, racist, and Islamophobic graffiti in Columbia restrooms.

“I think that the fact that all of these things happened so quickly in succession is kind of shocking to the student body at large and so it’s impossible to ignore,” Desiree Carver-Thomas, CC ’09 and a member of the coalition’s negotiation team, said. “It’s kind of forced the student body to take a long hard look at the way the University allows these things to happen.”

The strikers emphasized that they do not view the recent bias incidents as isolated episodes, but see them as stemming from a pervasive climate of racism and insensitivity on campus.

Members of the coalition point to several past incidents to support their claim. These include a racist cartoon published in The Fed and a bake-sale held against affirmative action by the Columbia College Conservative Club in 2004 that prompted students to wear black clothing and signs reading “I am being silenced” for a week. In 2005, two Columbia students scrawled racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic epithets on a Ruggles suite. Students responded with the Stop Hate on Columbia Campus demonstrations in 2006.

The attitude behind such incidents, some students in the coalition argue, arises in part from a Eurocentric core curriculum that lacks academic exploration of non-Western traditions and critical analysis of the place of race in society.

Students also claim that Columbia’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville represents an attitude that places little importance on the concerns of minority communities of West Harlem.

Michelle Diamond, CC ’08 and president of the Columbia College Student Council, said that the council will not take a stance on the situation as of yet.

“The GSSC sides with those who seek a better Columbia,” Niko Cunningham, GS and president of the General Studies Student Council, said in a statement. “Today, and forever, we side with those who chase progress.”

The strike comes 11 years after students held a hunger strike and organized a takeover of Hamilton Hall in April 1996 demanding the creation of an ethnic studies program at Columbia. After 15 days, the administration announced it planned to increase the number of faculty members in Asian American and Hispanic studies. Three years later, Columbia established CSER.

Students also held a hunger strike in 1985 to protest the University’s investments in companies that supported the South Africa’s Apartheid government, after which Columbia agreed to divest from companies which did business in South Africa.

Laura Schreiber can be reached at
TAGS: Hunger Strike

View Comments ( 21)Post a Comment

I hereby announce that I will be going on a hunger strike until the law school starts providing more free food at its events. I expect a phone call from Dean Schizer offering to hire me as an adjunct within the next couple hours.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 9:25pm

So, Nick Dirks has "offered to hire three senior professors for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in response to the strikers' demands." Who, pray tell? Louis Farrahkan, Fat Al, and Barry Bonds? What a bogus sad-sack.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 8:50pm

How does Columbia admit students like this? Columbia - like it or leave it. Quit blaming the college for something done by either a prankster or some rebellious type. These are copycat acts caused by the uproar in Jena. The campus is safe but these incidents bring out the idiots as they shine the lights on themselves. Crap happens; get over it.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 8:34pm

Go students! It is exactly because of actions like yours that we have:
Ended Slavery and Jim Crow
Give women the vote
Desegregated the public schools
Stopped the Vietnam war
Made this place better for everyone!
Good luck!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 6:57pm

Now what kind of world would it be if you couldn't make a jackass of yourself as a Columbia undergraduate?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 5:40pm

And then, if any (untenured) Columbia professor has the nerve to grade these people appropriately for missing classes and certainly (since they obviously care not that they miss classes) performing poorly on exams, they wil, undoubtedly, in turn, accuse the faculty and school of racism. At which time, another committee will be convened, and more "cluster-hiring" entertained. This place is turning into a kindergarten sans small chairs.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 5:09pm

While I respect their point of view, I think their way of expressing their opinion is self-destructive to themselves and the university.

Also, I really don't understand how the University's plans to expand have anything to do with them, although naturally I am aware of the basis (although again I don't agree with it) of the 60's protests.

Further, I am mystified; if an anonymous vandal commits random acts of racism, why the College should be held responsible, or how this somehow is related to some sort of institutional racism.

Personally, I think the students should be warned to stop the hunger strike, and resume classes, and if they don't - they should be expelled and removed from campus.

Isn't there a waiting list for candidates who are better motivated to study at Columbia rather than tearing the school apart by their reckless and divisive actions?
Columbia Grad, GS '96
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 4:44pm

Learning to starve now is a good start and excellent preparation for all these people who, by continuing to live their obnoxious and reverse-racist viewpoints will certainly do so for real after graduation. Hand-outs is their only option. Enjoy your future food-stamps.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 3:36pm

Should we be alarmed that students are choosing to starve themselves, even to death? If nobody gave a damn about Terry Schiavo, why care about these people. Progressives are gaga over choice especially when it comes to their bodies. So this is their choice. Go for it, kids.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 2:38pm

Sounds like the strikers just want justification for a radical diet. It's a little early to be worrying about bikini season.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 2:19pm

These students felt that the only way administration would hear them was with an extremely drastic action. It exemplifies the university's long history of a detached administration. Apparently, the university hasn't learned from the 1968 and 1996 protests.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 2:02pm

The fact that the students feel this way says nothing about whether the university has learned from prior protests. It says only that the students believe it hasn't.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 6:18pm

to the previous posters: did you even read the story?or are you the "anonymous" contrarian posters, so common among these comment sections that follow news stories that just complain about everything? is your life so miserable that you can't open your feeble little mind to what another human being chooses to stand up against or stand up for. Obviously the students aren't doing this to benefit themselves! Sheesh.

I read the article and think these young people, who will change the world, unlike the ignorant contrarian posters who commented before me. Ignorance breeds ignorance and you are excellent examples of why these students have taken this route.

I commend Mr. Dirks for his statement and am encouraged that the path these students have embarked upon is not in vain.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 2:02pm

it's this type of thinking (previous posters) that have moved the students to this action. they want attention and they want some constructive responses, not the moronic, ignorant type of comments posted here previous to mine of course.

Only six students care about the crap that's going on around columbia at this time?it's a sad reflection on the type of thinking that is going on at a supposedly progressive campus
oh wait this old traditional instution considers itself immune to what is going on in the world today
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 1:55pm

People are putting their health and their lives on the line, within a long tradition of hunger striking, as a way of protesting feeling unsafe and unrecognized in their community, feeling that their community does not address, but through its silence, perpetuates forms of institutional violence to both the members of the Columbia community and the surrounding Harlem community. These students are willing to put their bodies against the cogs of the machine they see as complicit in violence (emotional, psychological, philosophical, and material). What would you be willing to hunger strike for?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 12:48pm

Must one be willing to go on a hunger strike for some cause? Perhaps you are intolerant of those are not willing to do so. Are you in need of some diversity training so that you can at least understand, if not embrace, the views of those who regard you as a fucktard.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 7:51pm

If only ALL liberals and anti-Americans would go on a PERMAMENT hunger strike!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 11:39am

I live in a town where commitment to ‘anti-racism’ has turned into a disgustingly sick parody of a utopian society - where all races are equal but some are more equal than others. “Diversity” is included in every sentence, and, as everyone knows but no one says, it is code and it means “not-white.”

Race and culture are an important source of pride, EXCEPT if you’re white, and then you are the root of all evil. What used to be an inclusive society is now a Balkanized cacophony of squabbling minorities, going in ten thousand different directions, but who all seemingly can agree on one thing - that it’s all “Whitey’s” fault. The truly depressing thing is how many whites buy into this.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 9:51am

As a alumni of Columbia College -- I will happily fund a BBQ for all students --- so long as it occurs within 20 feet of the "Protesters" -- THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 9:24am

The fact that the mere expression of opposition to affirmative action is taken by these protesters as an incident of racism should pretty much tell us everything we need to know about these people.

This isn't the "Let's end racism" movement; it's the "Let's silence any opposition to our radical racial ideology" movement.
Posted by: anonymous238 November 7th, 2007 @ 9:16am

It is nothing more than immature forced coercion; the equivalent of a five year old threatening parents to hold their breath until they get an ice cream cone.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 7th, 2007 @ 9:40am

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