1996 Ethnic Studies Demonstrations

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Hamilton Hall during the strike

1996 Ethnic Studies Demonstrations were a series of protests and demonstrations in the spring of 1996, culminating in occupations of Low Library, Hamilton Hall (which graffiti branded "Ethnic Studiz Hall"), and a hunger strike. The primary demand of the demonstrations was the creation of a Department of Ethnic Studies, a proposition that had been previously rejected as unfeasible by university president George Rupp. The situation was successfully ended following a weekend-long mediation session led by law school professor Carol Liebman.



March 9th Student Committee for Latin American Studies (SCLAS) releases open letter to "expose the crisis in Latin American Studies and outline [their] demands for its redress," and collect over 300 signatures on a petition, addressed to several administrators. The demands are listed as:

  1. At least one senior level Latin American Literature professor to be hired while a search is underway for a full time professor (in response to the departure of Professor Deobrah Levenson-Estrada);
  2. A second full time Latin American History professor be hired;
  3. The undergraduate Latin American and Hispanics Studies Programs be consolidated;
  4. A full scale undergraduate program in Latino Studies be established;
  5. A meeting between the University Administration and the Student Committee be scheduled for no later than the week of March 20th, 1995.

March 22nd Steven Marcus, Dean of the College and V.P. for Arts and Sciences, responds to open letter with detailed two-page memorandum.

March 29th Forum held by the Asian Americans Working for Education, Coalition Against the Violence Initiative, ad-hoc Committee on Asian American Studies, SCLAS, and U.S. Students of Color Council addresses budget cuts in Latin American Studies and the outright exclusion of Asian American Studies and Latino Studies, and the racism inherent in the Federal government's Violence Initiative (a discontinued proposal for reducing violence in inner cities).

April 10th Dean Marcus writes letter to Marcel Agüeros, member of SCLAS, in response to meeting had with Dean Kathryn Yatrakis. Spells Agüeros as "Aguiros."

April 17th SCLAS e-mails a three page "proposal for the gradual establishment of a Latino Studies Program at Columbia" to the History, Music, Political Science, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, and Statistics departments.

October 30th SCLAS puts out another open letter to administrators.

November 11th Latino Studies teach-in held in Ferris Booth Hall. Junot Diaz (whose name is spelled "Juno" on the flyer), of Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao fame, was a then Masters student at Cornell, Silvio Torres, Jean Franco, and Gus Puleo were some of several writers and professors who conducted the teach-in.

December 4th Ad-Hoc Committee for Latino Studies has its first meeting. Flyer documenting the meeting reads, "We do not wish to wait for 20 years (as the Institute for African-American Research had to wait). And we do not wish to wait for 4 years in order to hire insufficient adjunct profs (as students supporting Asian-American Studies continue to be made to wait.)[sic] We are Ready now."

December 21st Professor Gus Puleo writes proposal for Latino Studies Major.


January 29th Ad-Hoc Committee for Asian American & Latino Studies sponsors informal teach-in held in Butler lobby.

January 31st Ad-Hoc Committee for Asian American & Latino Studies holds meeting to generate interest and spread awareness. Creates petition.

February 6th Student takeover of Columbia College Dean Quigley's office.

February 21st Committee on Instruction (CoI) first meets to discuss Professor Puleo's Latino Studies Major proposal.

February 23rd Committee on Ethnic Studies and the Core Curriculum, Ad Hoc Committee on Asian American Studies, Ad Hoc Committee on Latino Studies, BSO,and NAC writes letter to University Senate. It contains a two-page outline of demands, culminating in demand for a serious reconstitution of the core curriculum.

February 27th Same outline sent to University Senate with inclusion of list of scholars in Asian American Studies suggested as candidates for directorship of the Asian American Studies program. Included in the list is Gary Okihiro.

April 1 - April 15 Hunger strike.


Began with four strikers, although the Chronicle cites three strikers, since one of the strikers (Heather Starr) was hospitalized after the first three days of the hunger strike.

  1. Marcel A. Agüeros, a senior majoring in astronomy
  2. Michael Maldonaldo, a Columbia College senior;
  3. Heather Starr, a senior at Barnard College;
  4. Joaguin Ochoa, a graduate student at Columbia Teachers College

6 Negotiators:

  1. Othniel Harris CC'98
  2. Elbert Garcia CC'97
  3. Jennifer Duran CC'97
  4. Tomio Geron CC'96
  5. Sharod X CC'96
  6. Jane Bai, Ph.D. Student

Organizers: Jane Sung E Bai

Protesters: Estimated at 125 by the Chronicle, and "around 200," by students present at the time. The number of occupiers at a given time fluctuated.


In 1999, three years after the protest, the administration created the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in partial fulfilment of the strikers' demands. The center coordinates several vaguely ethnic studies-ish majors, and is located in Hamilton.

The protest also inspired the 2007 hunger strike, and the 1996 strikers issued a statement of support of the 2007 strikers' demands.