A Striker Speaks

Written by

Mulling over the merits and drawbacks of a hunger strike, Bwogger Sara Vogel G-chat with a striking member of Columbia Solidarity [link to strikers’ blog added 12:44 am] who wished to remain anonymous. It’s been edited a bit – IM conversations are always disjointed.

SV: Sorry to bother you! I’ve just been thinking a lot about this hunger strike. I don’t really know what to think, actually. And I thought you’re really involved, and could give me some perspective.

StudentStriker: After reading bwog…it is so important to have these conversations about it

8:18 PM SV:  To many, a hunger strike is a really symbolic action that calls to mind people like Gandhi and Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Is that something on strikers’ minds?

8:24 PM StudentStriker: So the thing is there is a “why we strike” statement [reproduced after the jump- ed.] and this statement is a collection of the strikers’ personal feelings. It is a culmination of individual statements, not to put us on the same level of prisoners who are without rights, expressions, food, or freedom. However, there is the sentiment that if all things were relative, students are in a way robots of this school.

The idea is, the core curriculum is so beautiful and so empowering, a social tool and a social weapon, so we should use it to make intelligent citizens and reform it with input from current events–such as the 5 hate crimes in less than a month. But the administration oppresses idea likes this or ethnic studies or expansion…. and they [the ideas] are literally put into a vacuum. We have had meetings with Bollinger where he outwardly doodles flowers on the demands

No joke.

He has walked out on meetings with students. He has rolled eyes at students. It is really quite disgusting

SV: Wow

StudentStriker: There is a feeling that students are oppressed because we have had hunger strikes in the past for similar issues that have been “successful” (although it should never have to come to a hunger strike)

SV: Wouldn’t such an action alienate people who may be supportive of some of the demands, but don’t want to commit to a hunger strike?

StudentStriker: It is sort of like that “last step”–a cleansing of the administrative process so to speak. But you’re right, a hunger strike marginalizes the student body. But the hope is that people understand this in response to the demands, not part of the demands.

So if someone else’s response is to sit in a building, or put up art around campus, or talk about these issues in classes, or go to Bollinger’s class and ask what’s up, more power to them!

8:32 PM It is important also to make clear this is not directly linked to any student group. There is no SGB funding or organization to write on a grad school application. This is purely a group of students that have gathered together. We hope that with time and more transparency more will join.

Statement by the strikers of Columbia Solidarity:

Why We Strike

      We are on hunger strike because we want change and because we believe that change is worth sacrifice. We strike against a university that seems not to care for the well-being of its students or of its community. We strike because we feel the urgency of a student voice that is continually being marginalized. We strike against the violence of displacing 5,000 people from their homes in West Harlem. We strike because we don’t want students in the future to have to resort to drastic measures to affect change in this institution.

      We strike because student input on these issues in meetings, 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. We strike because we abhor, viscerally, the failure of current administrators to address student concerns on these issues and because this failure constitutes violence against our intellect. We strike because these are not matters that will, nor can, wait.

 We have no more words for this university administration.  Hunger striking is an ideal course of action because it does not inflict harm on others; moreover, it offers strikers the opportunity for introspection and self-examination. We strike for the opportunity to reflect. We are peaceful.

      We strike because we have inherited a world in which racist, gendered, and sexualized hierarchies dominate the way power flows.  We strike because the administration consistently resists implementing structural changes that will allow us to challenge these hierarchies. We strike because the university does not recognize that the lack of space for the critical study of race through Ethnic Studies, the lack of administrative support for minority students and their concerns, the lack of engagement with the community in West Harlem, and the lack of true reform of the Core Curriculum are harmful to the intellectual life of its students.  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.

      We strike to reimagine the university as a more democratic place, where individuals are not isolated until communities are attacked, where we are at school in the City of New York, not making New York City more like this school, where students have a deciding say in this university, and where we are not called to a civilizing mission, but rather, to a process of liberation.

      We are not striking to be martyrs for anyone or for any cause. We know that some may misunderstand our actions, but we strike with the faith that students questioning, challenging, and taking their own actions to shift the dangerous path that this university is pursuing should serve more to unite us than to divide us.

      There has been tremendous unrest on campus this semester, these past few years, this past decade.  And people here feel psychically hurt by Columbia’s indifference to our heartache, to our struggle, to our rumbling need for a better university.  With luck, Columbia will see the starvation of our bodies as a bellwether of our growing desperation on this campus.  It’s a shame that Columbia was not more alarmed when we said our minds, hearts, and spirits were starving, too.

Tags: , ,


  1. oops  

    i read the subject and thought this was going to be about the WGA strike. even though it doesn't make any sense for Bwog to cover that.

  2. !!!  

    "...the lack of administrative support for minority students and their concerns"

    i agree, each minority student should have 2 advisors, an academic advisor and a race advisor. I demand justice!

  3. Clearly  

    what this guy/girl needs is a little bit of chicken. May I suggest, just in time for Christmas:

  4. Bollinger  

    is my president

  5. fun

    Too bad they're not having a huge walkout. That would be fun.

  6. alexw  

    I will counterprotest by wearing a Columbia t-shirt and eating maps of Manhattanvile until the ink builds up and poisons my blood stream.

  7. grateful  

    I don't really post on this blog, but I really feel the name to voice some support. As someone who loves being a Columbia student, and would not want to be anywhere else, I am deeply grateful that there are schoolmates of mine who will go to such lengths to make sure Columbia continues to be a locus of critical examination, acceptance, and consideration and exchange of ideas. Columbia has never been a place for passive education, and the students who strike have very obviously taken that to heart. There is something deeply touching about students who are so concerned about the future of their university, even though our time here is so limited. This university has been vastly improved by activism in the past, and I am heart-glad that there are still students here who are ready to take up the torch, and reject apathy. Even if you are not someone who agrees with what these students are striking for (and I am sure there are a lot of these who post on this blog), I really hope you can stop and think how powerful it is that there are students who will fight hard towards a vision of the future, and maybe they will consider that maybe these demands are things worth fighting for.

  8. feel the power

    Yes, but denying yourself food is really no fun at all. A walkout, on the other hand, conjures all sorts of happy adjectives and emotions.

  9. ARR  

    Hunger strikes are fantastic and all, but who are these people? Anonymity is giving this a level of abstraction that really isn't helping the strikers, especially since a hunger strike uses literal, physical debilitation as a means of making a statement.

  10. wtf  

    I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS. READ THEIR DEMANDS - they are all over the place. This is absolutely pathetic. Choose your battles. Then maybe they would be effective.

  11. I was

    never really a fan of the hunger strike as protest. To me it seems to be a form of willing martyrdom when your opponents refuse to make you a martyr.

    i more support occupying building, chaining oneself in front of entrances, etc. the hunger strike seems easy to defeat, i.e., let them starve to death.

  12. Out of curiosity  

    Why aren't the hunger strikers also "demanding" that the US government end the war in Iraq or save Darfur or feed the homeless or something? Why hunger strike for something so trivial in comparison? You've only got one life to waste away, may as well do it for something significant since no one's going to be paying attention anyway.

    • displacement  

      of 5000 people trivial by comparison?

      • huh?  

        Yes. Displacement of 50,000 people would be trivial by comparison. How many people have been displaced by any of the three hypothetical hunger-worthy outrages I just suggested?

    • Nick  

      I think the reason they aren't striking for these things is because as students at Columbia, their most direct point of access to power is the Columbia administration, which DOES have the ability to change Columbia policy. That isn't to say that other issues are not important, but that these students realize what pressure points are available to them as activists and which aren't.

  13. soon  

    they won't be. obviously.

  14. its sad  

    but this has become more about whether or not a hunger strike is good and whether we are ok seeing people go hungry, rather than the issues themselves. if the university actually gives in to anything, it will be for the wrong reasons.

  15. not involved  

    exactly. so change must happen.
    and also, in response to number 14, that's a really legitimate concern. however, why not begin by changing your school? is encouraging community and respect in one's own institution a bad thing? (and obviously people are paying attention! look at this!)

    • Why  

      Why must change happen? These students will be gone long before change happens, so it seems like this protest is really just some manifestation of the struggle-lust that seems so prevalent at this school.

  16. people people  

    no need for bashing the strikers for not combating every evil. They've put together a broad if cohesive set of demands. I support them, and their willingness to suffer and stand strong is something all the little self righteous sheiskopfs could learn from. You care about the War in Iraq? CCAW is presenting a proposal for divestment at the Socially Responsible Investing townhouse on the 13th, 5 pm meeting at the sundial. You care about the thousands of immigrants killed by US border policies or the US governments school of state sponsored terror in Latin America (ie The School of the Americas at Fort Benning) check out Lucha's immigration week all next week. The strikers are courageous, strong people. Have some respect, respect their cause, and accept the fact that you just can't hang with them.

  17. rjt  

    I love the idea that doing something unpleasant gives you political clout on any issue. Here are some actions I'm planning soon:

    1. Genital self-mutilation against Manhattanville.
    2. Drinking rancid milk for tort reform.
    3. Holding my hand against a burner for abstinence-only education.
    4. Coprophagia against child labor.

    Let me know if you want to join!

    • alexw  

      Rob, I think you've aimed your arrow a little to high on this one. Why bother with self mutilation or shit eating if less brutal tactics could be just as effective. Doing less work and getting the same results isn't laziness, it's efficiency.

      1) Not brushing your teeth until Ron Paul wins the 2008 presidential election.

      2) Clipping your fingernails a little too close to combat Senator Ted Kennedy's stance against wind farms.

      3) Tanning bed deprivation for net neutrality.

      4) Refusal to make any physical contact with anything containing rubies (or similar gems) until U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.

      • alc

        If doing unpleasant things is the way to gain political clout, doing mildly not unpleasant things must be the counterprotest:

        1. Singing in the shower for net non-neutrality.

        2. Playing with St. Bernard puppies so that the troops don't come home from Iraq.

        3. Getting up early, buying fresh brewed coffee and a muffin warm out of the oven and eating them while watching the sunrise over green hills laden with fertile earth packed down each day by equally fertile cows and geese in support of child labor.

        4. Letting my foot fall asleep for abstinence-free education.

      • rjt  

        Ron Paul jokes get me every time.

  18. Again  

    I support most of the issues they are demanding be changed: Manhattanville, leaving the Core alone, and less advisors/bureaucracy. I really hope these idiots don't put supporters of these issues in positions where they now have to hunger-strike to undo the damage they might do.

  19. Hypocricy  

    Funny how they claim that they are acting as an independent coalition, when I know for a fact that to book a space on campus you need to be a recognized student group. Presumably, a member of a recognized SGB or ABC group is exploiting their student group status to make these events happen.

  20. you  

    dont necessarily need to be in a recognized group in order to book space. exceptions can be, and are often made

  21. Amused spectator  

    If y'all want a break, CCSC is gonna be havin a "Hoops Shoot-Out" on Low Plaza... :-)

    And if anyone gets hungry, Columbia Musical Theater Society is having a bake sale...

  22. alexw  

    "But the administration oppresses idea likes this or ethnic studies or expansion.... and they [the ideas] are literally put into a vacuum."

    I really don't think that they manage to put ideas into a vacuum /literally/.

  23. ...  

    At Columbia, six students starve for attention. Globally, millions just plain starve.

  24. Can you...

    ...hear the students sing, singing the songs of hungry men?
    It is the voice of a group who will be overlooked again.
    When your brief attention-span, meanders away from this display.
    They'll give up, reach for a snack, and head back to the stacks.

  25. I LOVE  

    how they manage to tie in the expansion into EVERYthing, including an apparent hunger strike against hate crimes. Is there a sign-up sheet where I can list more completely irrelevant, but equally important issues for the next group of idiots who want to starve themselves?
    - Paying $2 for the train&bus.
    - Paying $1.25 for a regular cup of coffee
    - Paying $%#$%@$#% for a cup of Starbucks
    - Having to smell sex on my neighbor who passes by too closely in the hallway and refuses to shower regularly.
    - Wasting precious moments of my life because of that annoying kid in that class who loves to ask dumb questions
    - Having a penis that is just shy of 12", forever denying me the right to tell girls to hop on my foot.

  26. .....

    "We have had meetings with Bollinger where he outwardly doodles flowers on the demands [sic] No joke. He has walked out on meetings with students. He has rolled eyes at students. It is really quite disgusting" [sic]

    Is it just me, or does this sound like crap? What, is Bollinger twelve years old? I doubt anyone would act like that.

    • Somewhat True  

      There's a bit of hyperbole, but Bollinger does have a reputation for stepping out of meetings, like when the Senate was discussing the Sexual Misconduct policy.

      An apologist would say that he's ridiculously busy, and they'd be right, but I think it'd be better for him to just not come to things sometimes if he isn't able to devote his full participation.

      As far as I can tell though, he's been doing a better job of this lately-- that campus leaders meeting before Ahmedinejad for instance-- he stayed for the full hour and was genuinely attentive, even when Christien Tompkins decided to read a prepared statement about Manhattanville.

  27. 95% of statistics  

    I'm curious and skeptical about this declaration that the Manhattanville project will be displacing 5,000 people. Where did they get this number from, because last time I checked, it was more like 300, as that area from 125th to 135th to the river has maybe 2 apartment buildings. Does that change the fact that these people should be dealt with justly? no, not at all, but a little perspective is useful.

    Somebody else stated that these guys are all over the place with their demands, and that is absolutely true. Not only is the problematic in having *any* of their demands met, which makes it less likely that they'll be munching on a veggie burger anytime soon, but some of the things they're protesting aren't really the admin's fault. How can you blame the university for the actions of a few sharpie-happy idiots? Sure, they could put up more video cameras, which I would be a little concerned about, but short of that, there's not much you can do.

    As for Manhattanville, it is slightly short of insane to believe that not swiping into John Jay for a few days is going to change the admin's mind on a project they've been working on for a decade. Not to mention the fact that not everybody is against the expansion, and most are only worried about the manner in which it is proceeding. The process that the university has to go through to expand there is what guarantees local residents their rights, not a passionate declaration from the top of Low. Life usually isn't a Jimmy Stewart movie. The reason it has taken a decade is because the process is working. If you want to be vocal, be realistically vocal. Get involved in CB9 meetings, lobby Scott Stringer. Because I'm sorry, but a hunger strike is not going to do anything.

  28. Mithras  

    Sorry bwog, I'm as liberal as the next Columbia student, but you kind of lost me with this one:
    calls to mind people like Gandhi and Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
    Now I guess I get what you're driving at here -- very ideological people? -- but I don't have all that many categories that include both those sets of people.

  29. 5,000

    the number of 5,000 people displaced comes from Columbia's own environmental impact statement (which they had to release in order to apply for a rezoning of the area). 5,000 people is the number of people who will suffer secondary displacement, due to the rising rents and retail prices. this is a very low estimate, given that Columbia only looked at a very small radius around the area - they assume that Morningside park is an "impenetrable barrier" to gentrification, for example. surely, gentrification is a process happening all around new york, and would happen whether or not Columbia expands. however, Columbia's expansion in its current form, with inadequate provisions for affordable housing, would dramatically accelerate the process.

    • wirc  

      No, 5000, the 5,000 is considered a high estimate, except by untrained, uninformed opponents. It's based on standardized measurements that an outside contractor used to produce the system. Furthermore, the FEIS always issues conservative estimates. I prefer the 5-block measurement, which is much more reliable, due to the frenetic and wild nature of New York real estate.
      Why one or the other? Look at the morningside area, and create a box around the different university properties. It goes from 122nd to 110th street. Broadway is affluent along its length, but Amsterdam and Columbus are radically different only 2 or 3 blocks from 1020. go north, and you can see that even with Manhattan School of Music and Columbia affiliates up to 125th street, the neighborhood is poorer. Regrettably this is confounded by all of the projects and co-ops built by Moses, et al in the 50s that displaced thousands, but also produced a lot of decent housing compared to what was there before.

      And Morningside Park. It's always been seen as an impenetrable barrier, which was one of the reasons it was so aggressive of Columbia to build a gym there. But really, less than one block away from Bollinger's house, it's a different world. Who wants to commute up those stairs every day? The Grant and Manhattanville houses serve similarly to deflect some of the effect, being unsalable and filled with a limited set of poor individuals that act as a wall to development.

      But don't forget, gentrification will happen with or without Columbia, and it will happen fast. One has only to look in Harlem south of 125th street and in Hamilton Heights to see that the neighborhood is already getting yuppier. Almost none of that was there 3 years ago. It's moving so fast, even in a financing crisis that the gentrification wave will be north of Columbia before Manhattanville would be felt.

      Lastly, remember that the 3500-5000 people would be displaced OVER 25 YEARS. That's not bad at all. Even the people who are directly displaced will be moved out after 2012, when they can start to breathe easier since they won't be living next to a Bus Depot.

      Activists should drop the 197-a plan, which would displace 2500 people due to gentrification anyway and is full of crazy rules, and work on getting real benefits to the affected, like job training for the thousands of jobs the campus will produce. Remember that it will produce 3000 jobs that require only minimal degrees. There will also be hundreds of service sector jobs created, which aren't great, but are still jobs.


    1) You're not disenfranchised. In fact you have direct representation on the central policy making body of the University - the University Senate. Where are they on these issues? Why aren't they speaking out? Why isn't someone covering this angle? There are 3 CC (Tiffany Davis, Eric Wang, Felipe Tarud), 2 SEAS (Sumeet Shah, Amit Bedi), 1 GS (Paige Lampkin), and 1 Barnard (Jane Khodarkovsky)student senator. And that's just the ugrads, there are also Grad student senators as well. Bwog or Spec, please start seeking comment on University policy issues from the Student leaders who actually have direct input on the issues.

    2) You want the University to expand your pet department? Then do something constructive about it. Bust your ass, get a job on Wall Street, and in 15 years endow the professorships yourself. This is entirely within your power. You go to Columbia University, the opportunities to not only make change, but more importantly to bankroll them down the line, are open to you. Hell, it's what I plan on doing.

    3) WHY DO YOU WANT TO EXPAND THE BUREAUCRACY? In all your years at Columbia has it not become patently obvious to you that if there's one thing that Columbia should never be trusted to do it's to create an effective administrative organization? And you'll be gone in less than 4 years at best!

  31. PHEW  

    I just skimmed through all the comments on this and the last post about the strike. Granted, this is almost news to me as I have been off the computer almost all of break, so I can't really say I am the most informed about this (or that my opinion even matters at all).

    I agree that not everyone finds the demands feasible, but come ON guys, there's nothing in there that merits this kind of vitriol towards the strikers. Why are Bwog commenters so cruel? I don't know any of the strikers personally, but I support the fact that they are being proactive towards something that they believe is right. They obviously put a lot of time into their demands (and again, I don't agree with all of them, but I don't think they expect me to anyway) and it's admirable to me that they have followed through to such an extent.

    Of course, if they were plain nutjobs and if the demands were outright ridiculous, I wouldn't be saying the same. But they're valid demands that won't negatively affect me, and if they go through then they will obviously have a very positive effect on this group of students (and undoubtedly many others).

    Where is the love?

    • PHEW part 2  

      Lastly, I'm not getting all butt-hurt about the comments about chicken. Sure it was a slightly-funny joke that went on for too long, but that's not what I was referring to when I labelled some Bwog commenters as "cruel" . . . that was actually in response to the people hoping that the strikers would starve to death. I really hope no one thinks this in real life.

  32. The Strike  

    would seem more justified if the issues were picked with more care. Things such as protesting hate crimes and an ethnic studies department are easier to claim as being universally good. Although the means of combating racism, and the specific extent of justified ethnic studies funding may be debated, in general, they foster equality and the free exchange of ideas.

    Manhattanville and the Core however, are entirely different. There are plenty of people who all have great reasons for supporting the expansion, and for keeping the Core intact. These are students who don't ignore the issues - it is possible to confront the issues and arrive at a very reasonable conclusion that is almost the opposite of the protesters'. In such a case, using martyrdom to generate the clout for change is equivalent to strong-arming.

    • I agree  

      The implication that Noose incidents/racism are related to the expansion and Columbian academia is tenuous at best and dangerous at worst. I consider myself liberal and have participated in Human Rights activism, but I really do think Manhattanville and the Core should be dealt with separately. Instead of antagonizing the administration, I think these guys should have helped the administration formulate it's response to the racist incidents, because I think the University's lack of a response is a sign of cluelessness rather than malice. And frankly I think Bo is embarassed by the inadequacy of Ethnic Studies, and the strikers would have done better to create a sustainable plan to improve Ethnic studies at CU.

  33. reflect

    bwog should grow up.. honestly, covering an important issue like this with pictures of gatorade and water? ahh yes, I forgot.. it's a gossip rag, not a new source and definitely not a source for constructive dialogue.. or discussion for that matter. There has been a time and place to talk about these issues and no one from the now affected bwoggers was at any meeting in relation to any one of these concerns. It's easy to write an anonymous post and feed incendiary comments like ones about bbq chicken (gross by the way), it's quite another thing to put yourself on the line and stand up for something you believe in.

  34. By the way,  

    If they are drinking gatorade, it is not really a hunger strike... One could live off of gatorade for quite a while. I'll only be impressed if they limit themselves to water.

  35. Responding  

    to the comments which imply that hunger strikers would have gotten more action on their demands by meeting with or working with the administration--what do you think they've been doing? The strike is being staged by exactly those students who have been most active around these issues in all of the available forums for ages; they've been meeting with Bollinger, in some cases, for years. They've certainly been involved in CB9. The fact that they've come to a hunger strike seems to me to reflect the fact that those forums aren't enough, that change can't be brought about, in this administration, through good-faith engagement in hearings and meetings and town-halls, because the administration knows that they can just wait students out, and eventually the passionate and knowledgeable ones will graduate. Well, now they'll have to wait them out in a different way.

  36. rjt  

    I also love how it's specifically Gatorade that they're allowed to drink. Not "sports drinks," Gatorade. It lends a surreal commercial aspect to the whole endeavor.

    • hahaha  

      Yeah, Gatorade totally sponsored the hunger strike. It's kind of like how someone else speculated earlier that Fox News and the Republifascists were behind all of these protests because they make Columbia liberalism look ridiculous -- it follows that evil corporations strike again by promoting an absolutely absurd form of protest that devalues the perspective of the demanders.

      Also, Niko, couldn't they just take vitamins or lick salt or something?

  37. sportsdrinkguy  

    the gatorade is there to make sure potassium/sodium levels don't dip into the seizure zone. its not there for calories - although there are quite a few in there.

  38. uhh  

    so if the administration changes 49 of the 50 policies that they're striking against, do they still die of hunger?

  39. fund!

    Can we please start a fund to raise money to send facebook Gifts to the hungerstrikers? Come on guys, this is a worthy cause, and todays gift is a Dinosaur.

  40. thought  

    it's a bizarre pathology about our society. we have here on bwog tons of comments hoping that the hunger strikers just die (more on the other thread than this one). but remember say the reaction around virginia tech? zillions of facebook photos changed to show solidarity? anyone joking about it? sometimes we seem to be happy explicitly wishing death on others, even fellow students, sometimes its shocking. i really don't understand it. is it the media coverage? do the hunger strikers become legitimate targets because they're activists (are we that anti-political)?

    and, duh trolls, im not comparing the nasty bwog commenters to the VA shooter. just to their own after-the-fact reactions.

    • lol no  

      it's not that we think you're comparing the bwog commenters to the VA shooter.

      it's that we think you're comparing the response to students killed in a massacre and students on a lame hunger strike.

    • It's not bizarre  

      The victims of the Virginia Tech massacre were innocent students that were murdered in cold blood. These moronic protesters, on the other hand, are self-righteous pricks who are against the legal expansion of a world-class university because it will *gasp* improve the surrounding area.

  41. Woa is them  

    Yes, it has been tough being at an Ivy league School, with one of the best Anthropology programs in the world that puts a high emphasis on race relations.... O and then there is that MELAC program and then that Human Rights program, o and I guess we could include all the regional study options.... So So Hard...

    "heartache, to our struggle"

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.