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Student Hunger Strike
at Columbia University

Daniel Gonzalo Alarcon
New York City

The following press releases were received from students at Columbia University involved in a hunger strike in April of 1996. The students had been demanding that the Univeristy establish a Department of Ethnic Studies. The releases speak for themselves as examples of students involved in determining their own futures.


The hunger strike is over.
The struggle for Ethnic Studies is not.

Negotatiations with the Administration began on Friday and continued throughout the weekend. Our team of people and always been willing to negotiate, while it was the Administration that had consistently avoided dialogue. We came in with a proposal, they came in with nothing. On Saturday, they came back and admitted they hadn't even read our proposal. Without going into too many specifics, the arguments came down to the wording of a one sentence rider to be attached to final agreement. The adminsitration was threatening mass arrest all day Monday, giving us ultimatum after ultimatum, deadlines, and coercion. But we stood our ground.

They gave us an offer, and said nine o'clock the coppers come in and arrest everyone without warning. WE STAYED.

They said the same at Noon. We stayed.

At five o'clock they came back with something else. Faculty came in to speak to us, faculty who is on our side, and other students veterans of other struggles to tell us to accept, that we had accept a victory when it is presented to you, instead of holding out for the impossible.

We were emotionally and physically spent. Words can't describe the feeling in that room, as we realized as a collective of two hundred, that we had an impossible decision to make. We could accept the administrations offer, which granted us four faculty tenure lines, a vaguely worded proposal to establish a faculty commission to look into ethnic studies (no caps) and amnesty for all the students involved -- OR we could face mass arrest, suspension and expulsion, the continuation of the exhausting strike, and the possible loss of faculty support. Obviously neither choice was ideal.

In the end, we accepted the Administration's proposal. I read in the New York Times to day a quote from a dean saying that they gave us nothing, that the granted us nothing. The BS machine has begun to work its media magic, but let me tell you the truth: WE PUSHED COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY TO RECOGNIZE US AS A POWER TO BE DEALT WITH. WE HAVE BROUGHT THE ETHNIC STUDIES STRUGGLE TO THIS CAMPUS, AND IT WILL NOT GO AWAY.

We realize we didn't get everything we wanted, but we didn't expect that either. The adminstratin has the nerve to claim that the hunger strike and the student protest had nothing to do with the approval of Latino Studies Curriculum or the Asain-American Studies Curriculum, that they had already decided to grant at least two of these faculty lines. The truth is they never intended to do anything on these matters, the truth is if they had their way they would throw us all out of school and put their money elsewhere.

We aren't going anywhere. We signed the document with reservations and comments:
1) This is beginning. We are taking the professors and the tenure as a step in the right direction.
2) In no way does this mean that our struggle has ended. We will be watching the committee closely, if they so much as hint at selling us out, they will have hell to pay.

At 9:00 pm last night, we broke bread with the hunger strikers, and took down the tent which had stood in the center of COlumbia's campus for two weeks and a day.

Does it feel like a victory? Not exactly. We didn't fight and starve and go to jail for some blue-ribbon committee! But when I see the faces of the people who fought together with so much courae and dedication, I'm not pessimistic. We achieved something on paper, but among us, we created a nucleus of struggling students who will not give up until education is just.

That said, round one of this struggle is over. We are proud of the community we forged during these weeks, it was truly a beautiful thing. I'd like to thank all of you for you support and letters to RUPP, they have meant alot. As part of a larger movement, I'd like to stay informed of what is happening elsewhere, and rest assured, you will be hearing from us again next semester.

daniel alarcon

Committee for Ethnic Studies and the Core Curriculum

Day 12 - 500 Attend Teach-In

First of all thanks to everyone who has written in, both in support (much love) and in disgust. I thank those that write to criticize because it is important to keep our issues straight, to stay mentally sharp, and remind ourselves what kinds of things we are up against.

Update: the arrest of 22 students on Wednesday morning, and the campus police state lock-down that ensued rallied students to our cause. We got almost five hundred out for a teach-in that evening.

Everyone has been released from jail at this point. The University's discipline has begun. NYPD is on campus, accompanying security guards as they serve students with their papers. All access to campus is restricted to students only so we're doing our best to sneak others on.

Yesterday afternoon, we held a peaceful sit-in at Hamilton Hall, into the night. Well, let's be real, we took it over, and we still got it. We're holding it as leverage for the negotiations that have FINALLY started.

Yes, that's right, the administration came to us, they recognized our numbers, and at this moment a committee of students and administrators, with two faculty mediators have begun the negotiation process.

THE HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES. The adminstration has not yet given us anything, but the momentum is on our side. They are wavering, we stand strong, They have agreed to negotiations with no strings attached. WE WILL NOT SELL OUT THE POWER OF THIS MOVEMENT. Let that be clear: we have worked too hard for too long to turn back now. We are staying in Hamilton Hall to keep the pressure on, to hold the adminstration to its agreement of good-faith negotiations, which after all, is the essence of what we have wanted from the beginning.

We're hopeful, but we won't be fooled.

more later.



Day Ten - part 2

15 Columbia Students Arrested in Takeover of Administrative Building!!!!!

On DAY 10 of the Columbia University hunger strike for an Ethnic Studies Department,
approximately fifteen students were arrested in Low Library and charged with trespassing. These arrests come a day after over 150 students stormed into Low Library, the primary administrative building of the University. The students remained in the building throughout the evening.

This morning, students secured all the entrances to the building, disrupting many University activities. Since this morning all access to the campus has been restricted to people with Columbia Identification only.

At 11:30 this morning, New York police officers in full riot gear entered the south east side of Low Library and arrested 15 group of students. These students, and one by-stander randomly arrested, were brought in vans to the 25th precinct, located at 119th between Lexington and Park.
About sixty more students followed the police to protest the arbritary arrest of their peers.


There will be a press conference at 2:00pm at St. Mary's Episcopal Church at 126th and Old Broadway.

Forward this to all you know.


Day Ten - part 1

You may have heard, but yesterday at around 4:15, over one hundred students marched into the main administrative building on Columbia's campus, demanding that the administration address the now ten-day-old hunger strike student dmands for an Ethnic Studies Dept. George Rupp, ass that he is, tried to tell us that if we really cared about the hunger strikers we would give up and vacate.
If he really cared about the hunger strikers he wouldn't have denied admittance to students trying tobring water in to Joaquin Ochoa, WHO HASN'T EATEN IN TEN DAYS.

Security tried to lock us in, NYPD was out in force (at one point we counted fifteen squad cars and seven paddy wagons), so a rally of eighty or so stood guard to block the doors to Low so that coppers couldn't arrest anyone.

By nine, one sister had passed out from the stress and had to be rushed out, the situation was tense as hell, as people from the outside were trying to get in and people from the inside trying to force the doors open. Things got really hectic after so called negotiations turned out to be nothing more than administration bullshit artists telling us the same shit that they had said before. A standoff followed, and eventually a physical confrontation with some security before they had to relent and WE TOOK OVER LOW ROTUNDA.

At this moment students inside are mobilizing to secure all entrances to the building.

That's the word as of now.


Student Hunger Strike Enters Day Nine!

Faculty plans meeting with administrators to discuss the need for Ethnic Studies

Local 241 endorses a departmental home for Ethnic Studies

As the strike enters DAY 9, the strikers are physically weakening although they remain adament in their demands for an Ethnic Studies Department. The administration, as of Tuesday morning, has neither acknowledged the strikers formally nor made any moves towards beginning a dialogue with students on the possible establishment of Ethnic Studies. The Committee on Ethnic Studies and the Core Curriculum has received an informal letter from President George Rupp without so much as a single mention of the hunger strike or any possiblity for negotiations. Monday's rally focused on students response to this letter and the general lack of attention that we have received for our academic concerns.

Day 8 highlights included a meeting between students and concerned faculty. The faculty concluded that students demands should be promptly addressed out of fairness. They pledged to call for a meeting with the Administration to express thier concerns, as scholars and as concerned Columbians.

Local 241 endorsed our efforts yesterday.

Today, IT'S ON! Big rally, city-wide, we ain't sitting down anymore! what
else can i say?

Student Hunger Strike Enters Day 4

200 students block traffic on Broadway
demanding Ethnic Studies at Columbia University


Yesterday's rally was intense. Students are realizing how much power we actually have. Support is high and the momentum is with definetly on our side after the rally. We held up traffic for nearly half an hour, chanting and just appreciating our own numbers. I think many students that hadn't previously understood that they could change things came to that conclusion after seeing such a powerful action taken by such a diverse, united, and focused group.

The success of the rally was tempered somewhat by the hospitalization of Heather Starr, a senior from Barnard who was participating in the hunger strike. She will recover fully but we do not expect her to return to the strike anytime soon.

The adminstration has yet to apporach the students to discuss a possible resolution.

How you can help:

1) circulate petitions in support thourgh your campus or organization

2) email President George Rupp at (cc your messages to dga5 or rpc4)

3) organize vigils or silent marches in support.

4) if at all possible videotape your actions, along with messages of support, a kind of video postcard. These will become important in the next week as the strikers become weaker and weaker. messages of support will be vital to keep them focused, alert, and confident.

5) we are compiling a list of official endorsements to be placed in a full page ad in a major newspaper. if you represent an organization, talk it over with your peoples and let us know.

6) approach faculty, especially high visibility members to write in support.

7) keep us connected with fax numers of media outlets that might be receptive to our messages

8) write your local paper, campus or otherwise. connect our movement to your movement for ethnic studies and racial justice.

9) write your own administrators. we all know these big-shot arrogant administrators chat among themselves. Let your people know that there is solidarity.

10) raise money, for your m0ovement and ours. we have lots of expenses, water, tents, copies, posters, banners, etc. anything will help.


Hunger strike, day three

The student hunger strike at Columbia University is now in its third day, and support both on and off-campus is growing. Students continue to occupy the central lawn in front of the main library. Besides individual messages of support from across the country, students at Cornell held a candlelight vigil, while students at Yale have circulated petitions. On campus, the United Students of Color Council has endorsed the strike, and many students have brought the issue up in their classes.
Media attention of the strike is increasing. Stories have now appeared in the New York Times, have aired on WBAI, WLIB, New York 1 News, Telemundo, and Korean TV.

We have entered Day 3, and still the University has not directly acknowledged our strike. While they have talked to media, trying to put as nice a face as possible on their neglect of our demands, they have not mentioned that all progress has only come through student action, that the Univrsity, left to its own devices, has never taken any steps toward the establishment of the department we demand.

This afternoon, at 4:30, there will be a city-wide rally in support of Ethnic Studies, both here at Columbia and throughout the nation. We will joined by our brothers and sisters at City College of New York, who are currently fighting against the financial cutbacks that have destroyed
their Ethnic Studies Departments. Guest speakers include Father Luis Barrios, longtime community activist, Panama Alba of the National Congress of Puetro Rican Rights, and Hyn Lee, of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence.

Love goes out to everyone that has written in to show solidarity. It means a lot to the strikers and their support team.

Hunger Strike Enters Second Day

As DAY 2 of the hunger strike begins, students continue to occupy the central lawn in front of the main campus library. Since yesterday, strikers and supporters have set up a tent and information table to further inform the community on the strike's progress. Despite a night of harsh weather, strikers remain steadfast in their resolve to stay on strike until the University commits to establish a Department of Ethnic Studies.

The strikers have been inspired by support from community members, campus organizations, and by messages of encouragement from colleges all over the country. They were deeply touched by the more than fifty people who attended Monday night's candlelight vigil in spite of the less than favorable weather conditions.

The strikers urge everyone in the community to join them tommorrow WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3 AT 4:OOpm at the SUNDIAL ON COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY CAMPUS, for a city-wide rally to support Ethnic Studies at Columbia and throughout the nation.

Thanks to everyone who has written to show their support. Phone, fax, or e-mail Columbia University adminstrators to express your belief in Ethnic Studies:

April 1, 1996
Student Hunger Strike at Columbia University

Asian-American, Latino, Black, and concerned students demand Ethnic Studies NOW!!

At 8:00am this morning, Columbia University students began a hunger strike in protest of Columbia administration's unwillingness to act upon students' demands for a Department of Ethnic Studies.

This action is the culmination of years of unsuccessful negotiations and struggle for a more inclusive curriculum.

A broad-based coalition of students and student groups have joined the committee on Ethnic Studies and the Core Curriculum in the struggle for Ethnic Studies.

In solidarity, a candlelight vigil will take place tonight at 7:00pm at the Columbia University Sundial.

Please fax,email, or call the following administrators immediately to express your support for the students involved. Please "cc" all email to this email address ( Thank you.

George Rupp
President of the University
Phone: (212) 854 2825
Fax: (212) 854 6466
Address: 202 Low Library

Jonathon R. Cole
Provost of the University
Phone: (212) 854 2403
Fax: (212) 932 0418
Adress: 205 Low Library

David Cohen
Vice President of Arts and Science, Dean of Arts and Sciences Faculty
Phone: (212) 854 8296
Fax: (212) 855 5401
Address: 208 Low Library

Austin Quigley
Dean of Faculty of Columbia College
Phone: (212) 854 2441
Fax: (212) 854 7984
Address: 208 Hamilton

Office of the Dean of Columbia College
Phone: (212) 854 2446

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