Friday, November 09, 2007

Columbia Students Begin Hunger Strike Over Expansion (Update1)

Columbia Students Begin Hunger Strike Over Expansion (Update1)
By Allison Abell Schwartz

Bryan Mercer, a 22-year-old senior, reads a book during a hunger strike on the Columbia University campus in New York, on Nov. 8, 2007. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg News

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Five Columbia University students began the second day of a hunger strike to protest the New York school's expansion into a neighboring area and administrators' response to hate incidents.

The action comes one month after a hangman's noose was found on the office door of a professor at Columbia's Teachers College. It also occurs in advance of a City Planning Commission decision due this month on the university's rezoning proposal, which would allow for the estimated $6 billion expansion by the school into a West Harlem section called Manhattanville.

The protesters are demanding more involvement by students and Manhattanville residents in shaping Columbia's plan to expand during the next two decades. For starters, they say they want the school to withdraw the rezoning bid and rethink matters such as housing costs. The current proposal would displace an estimated 5,000 people, the students say.

``The expansion can occur but needs to be ethical and needs to have respect for the community we are a part of,'' said hunger striker Emilie Rosenblatt, a senior at Columbia College, the main undergraduate arm of the university.

The hunger strikers' demands also include an update to the core curriculum to highlight racial and cultural issues; more support for multicultural programs; and issuance of an annual report on ``hate crimes'' at the school.

The five strikers, set up in three tents on the south lawn of the main Morningside Heights campus, are being supported by a team of about 25 students. These aides work in shifts to make sure the strikers have emotional support and are drinking enough fluids to lower health risks. The university's medical staff is performing checks on the strikers' vital signs and will conduct blood and urine tests once every two days.

`Prepared to Stay'

Rosenblatt said she was disappointed in what she called the lack of any response from University President Lee Bollinger.

``We're prepared to stay as long as necessary through the Thanksgiving holiday, but we're hoping the university doesn't let it come to that point,'' Rosenblatt said.

The strikers are holding nightly vigils on campus at 9 p.m. About 70 students attended last evening's vigil. The 25 aides are organizing a march inside the campus to take place on Nov. 10.
``We are planning a community rally to show solidarity to the strikers and express support for the demands they make to show this is not an issue specific just to this campus but to this community,'' said Christina Chen, a Columbia College junior and part of the strikers' support staff.

The students have no current plans to recruit more hunger strikers, according to Chen.

Worst-Case Scenario

The students' assertion that 5,000 people would be displaced isn't accurate, said Laverna Fountain, the university's vice president for public affairs. Robert Casdin, senior executive vice president, said that in the worst-case scenario, fewer than 3,300 people would be at risk of losing their homes by 2030 as development caused rents to rise in and near Manhattanville.

Fountain also provided a new statement for the university, saying the students' health was of most importance now.

``While there is, of course, lively debate about details of this land-use proposal, even those raising objections to particular elements say that they favor Columbia's expansion in the area,'' Columbia said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Allison Abell Schwartz in New York at . Last Updated: November 8, 2007 19:06 EST

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