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News :: Education
Columbia Students Hunger Strike: Take Back the University
12 Nov 2007
Five Students at Columbia University began a hunger strike five days ago as part of a series of actions in order to get the University to Agree with their demands. The demands were created and consensed apon by various student groups and students in an attempt to create a University where man worlds can exist. Where critical examination and the wellbeing of students and the community are held in higher priority than profit and public image.

Five Students at Columbia University began a hunger strike five days ago as part of a series of actions in order to get the University to Agree with their demands. The demands were created and consensed apon by various student groups and students in an attempt to create a University where man worlds can exist. Where critical examination and the wellbeing of students and the community are held in higher priority than profit and public image.
The striker's reasons for striking in their own words:

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 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."

To see the demads, sign the petition, get involved, engage, deconstruct, visit the strike website at:

We emphasize that the hunger strike is part of a series of other actions. We concieve of it as a jumping off point- a locus- from which other forms of creative resistance can emerge autonomously, spontaneously, in solidarity.

As of now the University has relesead no statement regarding the strike, but negotiations begin tommorow night. A few other students have joined the strike, as well as one professor at Barnard.

Yesterday, a group of people and organizatioins from West Harlem rallied in support of and in solidarity with the strikers. They then marched from Columbia to the house of Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia. Rude Mechanical Orchestra rocked it pretty hard.

The Demands:

Administrative Reform:

Columbia University has failed to demonstrate its commitment to providing safe spaces for all members of our campus community. The administration has yet to fulfill its avowed goals of making the long-term, institutional changes necessary in stemming the rising tide of hate incidents aimed at students of color, students of faith, LGBTQ students, and other oppressed groups. We demand that the following changes be enacted so that students may hold the University accountable to its purported anti-discriminatory values.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs is an integral part of our community. From student group advising to programming, to building a support network for individual students, the OMA's range of operation requires more resources than that which is granted by this school. The OMA is grossly understaffed and housed in a space that is simply inadequate considering the scope of its responsibilities. Furthermore, the OMA has only a limited purview in working with Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The OMA must have administrative support and a means of inter-school collaboration in order to address issues of diversity on a campus-wide level.


1. We demand more advisors and counselors for cultural groups, students of color, the LGBTQ community and communities of faith, with student involvement in the hiring process of said personnel. We ask that that the Office of Multicultural Affairs be expanded physically and responsibly, and that more support for collaboration between the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Columbia and the Multicultural Affairs Office at Barnard be given by the University administration.

The University administration has failed to facilitate inter-school communication between faculty, administrators, staff, and students alike, resulting in inconsistent responses to bias incidents and hate crimes. The introduction of a Vice Provost for Multicultural Affairs would greatly improve channels of communication between schools and the campus community on issues of diversity. This Vice Provost would be able to facilitate the connections between various schools and implement campus-wide initiatives.

The creation of this position would ensure a level of consistency and accountability in the way that the administration addresses bias incidents and hate crimes as well as other student concerns, and would encourage the university to be proactive in addressing issues of campus climate. Columbia would be able to respond to such issues preemptively, rather than reacting to incendiary incidents that reflect badly on our school as a whole. The Vice Provost should be responsible for providing incentives for certain policy changes that will encourage greater communication and interaction between faculty and students, communication and initiatives across schools, and lend continued support for anti-oppression training for incoming students, as well as for incoming faculty and public safety.

2. We demand a Vice Provost for Multicultural Affairs to administer and direct the University's policies affecting students within all the schools of the University.

3. We demand institutionalized, mandatory, full day workshops on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, power and privilege for all incoming faculty, and public safety; and that the training focus on anti-oppression, rather than sensitivity and diversity.

4. We demand that Columbia's Public Safety announce instances of hate crimes when they are reported and issue an annual report of reported bias incidents and hate crimes and how they have been addressed.

Ethnic Studies:

Ethnic Studies examines race as a social construction that has been shaped throughout United States history at the hands of forces such as policy, violence, law, and media. It includes an analysis of the influences of gender, sexuality, nationality, and class, as well as a critical look at the power structures that have been prevalent in joining together the elements in the formation of race and ethnicity as we understand it today. Especially given Columbia's Eurocentric Core Curriculum, Ethnic Studies plays a crucial role in providing students with tools critical to understanding the formations of race and ethnicity in the United States and provides us with the necessary knowledge to understand the position of ethnicity and race as projects of power.

The state of Ethnic Studies at Columbia is in a critical condition. The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) and the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) are understaffed, underfunded, and have little autonomous power with which to extend its programming. This program has been denied the crucial resources that it needs to sustain itself. The risk of even further decline will become an even bigger threat unless the power to hire faculty and offer a full curriculum in the University is granted to the Center.

Following its institutionalization, student voices become powerless in determining the direction of CSER. As a result of the 1996 protests that led to creation of Ethnic Studies at Columbia, students were afforded special positions on the hiring committees of CSER. However, in practice, these positions have had no voting power and little influence, and are wholly symbolic in nature.


1. Given the inadequate number of core faculty present next semester, we demand the completion of 2 core faculty hires per year for both CSER and IRAAS until each has 12 core junior and senior professors, which must be maintained indefinitely.

2. The academic review of CSER and IRAAS must begin in Summer 2008 where the board must include only ethnic studies scholars from outside institutions as well as Columbia ethnic studies majors. The academic review must also research the steps necessary for the creation of Queer Studies, which has historically been placed under Ethnic Studies at other institutions, as well as Native American Studies which must be considered by the university following the review's completion.

3. Interested Ethnic Studies majors collectively, shown through a vote, must be given 1 or 2 votes (depending on committee size) which will be delivered by the current student positions on all hiring committees for junior and senior faculty to increase student presence and determination of CSER's direction.

4. To maintain the integrity of Ethnic Studies and the very possibility of its sustained growth, the CSER and IRAAS must be granted the ability to make hires autonomously. This is not a call for the immediate departmentalization of Ethnic Studies. Rather it is a call for the Ethnic Studies programs to make hiring decision on their own accord, without the need of outside departments to lead the hire. We recognize that this is unprecedented for centers and institutes throughout the University, but see it as a necessary step in creating Ethnic Studies classes and research initiatives that are accountable to the field and on par with peer institutions.

Manhattanville Expansion & Community Accountability:

As students of Columbia University, we find it impossible not to take a stand when our university is actively ignoring the rights of the West Harlem community. Instead of engaging the community in respectful and open negotiation, Columbia is pursuing an expansion plan of disruption and displacement. We believe that the community has a right to affordable housing, living wage jobs, and a prominent voice in any development plan for its neighborhood. We believe that Columbia's plan must recognize the rights of all people regardless of their economic background or race.

The problems with Columbia’s plan are as extreme as they are abundant. According to Columbia’s own statistics, five thousand people would be placed at risk of displacement due to rent pressures engendered by the addition of university affiliates to the area – and this number is likely low. The plan seeks to bulldoze almost every structure in the area – including the current location of the Cotton Club and other community institutions – in order to create a 7-story underground "bathtub" upon which its structures would be supported. The university is planning to create buildings that are very tall, contextually out of place with the surrounding community. The university is also pursuing the use of eminent domain against property-owners who refuse to sell their buildings. While it claims to desire a productive relationship with Harlem, it is functionally colonizing a community and remaking the neighborhood in its own image.

The most basic problem with Columbia’s plan, however, is its wanton disregard for the basic principle of local democracy, something that the university’s humanistic ideals should hold as sacrosanct. Community Board 9 undertook a democratic, transparent process of many years to create a framework for development that took into considerations the needs of its residents. This plan conflicts directly with the expansion plan, which the university has stubbornly refused to revise. Despite the nearly unanimous rejection of the plan by the Community Board this August, the university is using its political muscle to push the plan through the approval process. The university’s basic principles should not be sacrificed on the altar of profit. We believe that Columbia must concretely apply the principles of the community's 197-A plan to its planned expansion.

As informed and active members of this institution, we refuse to allow the current expansion plan to go forward in our name. We stand in solidarity with the 10 demands made by the Community Board in August and therefore demand that:


1. Columbia withdraw its 197-C proposal to rezone Manhattanville immediately.

2. After withdrawing its proposal from the review process, Columbia submit its proposal to Community Board 9 for revision in line with the principles of the 197-a plan.

3. After making the relevant changes to its rezoning plan, Columbia negotiate a substantive community benefits agreement which serves to mitigate displacement created by the university’s presence and addresses job creation, environmental problems and university-community relations.

Core Curriculum:

Columbia's Core Curriculum has been criticized for decades for not only its Eurocentrism, but its marginalization of nonwhite peoples within the West, and the issues of racialization and colonialism. While there have been additions throughout the years of a Major Cultures requirement, and individual texts such as The Souls of Black Folk, The Wretched of the Earth, and the Haitian Revolutionary Constitution, these efforts to remedy the Core have been insufficient in concept and execution. The Major Cultures requirements often take place in large lectures, where contrasting to the intimate seminars of other Core classes, content mastery can take priority over critical thinking, and the texts and themes that have been inserted into CC, Lit Hum, and Music Hum often seem to be tokenized additions rather than incorporated into a transformed conception of the Core. As such, we call for continued reassessment of all Core requirements, not as simply a matter of representation, but in developing a Core Curriculum that does not marginalize critical thinking about racialization, colonialism, sexuality, and gender. The Core Curriculum is not only out of step with Columbia's students, but does not even tap into the resources of the intellectual work done by faculty who address the issues marginalized by the Core in their own work. The inadequacies of the Core Curriculum are not only intellectual problems, however. As the Core is one of the central pillars of a Columbia education, its marginalization of the issues of racialization, colonialism, sexuality and gender further marginalizes and traumatizes students themselves.

In this state of affairs, the University must work with greater urgency and consideration of the decades of dedication by students, alumni, and faculty to reshape the antiquated Core Curriculum into one that represents the values of a diverse, global, intellectually vibrant and just University. Towards that end, we recommend:


1. The reformation of the Major Cultures requirement to contain a course in a seminar format which challenges students to think critically about the issues of racialization and colonialism, global phenomena which also are at the Core of the "Western" experience.

Given that these recommendations have been on the table for decades, we realize that we are saying nothing new, and that more than simply asking is required for their execution. Therefore, we also call for further measures of accountability to students. Given that every Columbia student is required to take the Core Curriculum, we feel that the limited student participation in the Committee on the Core, the Committee on Instruction, and their various subcommittees is evidence of inadequate use of the resources of the student body. We call for:

2. More student voice and seats within these committees, and that their process of selection be better publicized, so that students' passions for changing the Core do not have to flare up in moments of spectacle, but can be incorporated into the constant process of developing the Core Curriculum.

Furthermore, we would like to point out that many Barnard students have similar concerns about the 9 Ways of Knowing and have been involved in changing the curriculum both at Columbia and Barnard. However, we are cautiously optimistic about the initiative shown by Barnard's faculty and administration to address our concerns. We hope that Columbia faculty and administration can look to and communicate with Barnard to think about the ways to best be accountable to student needs, as we all belong to a larger community.

If you want to read updates about the hunger strike and other actions at columbia, you can check: The comments on the articles are particularly indicative of what we're striking against.

Here's some other news:

Hunger Striker Hospitalized:
Community Rally:
Professor Joins Strike:

Sorry that was long!

Love and Rage.

By Elliazer Crooks kdb2111 (at)
See also:

This work is in the public domain
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