2007 hunger strike

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Tents set up on South Lawn for the hunger strikers
Strike supporters rally at The Sundial
Strike supporters march on an administrative meeting in Hamilton Hall

In November 2007, Columbia activists embarked upon yet another protest. Banking off several recent "bias incidents" involving racist graffiti and symbols seen around campus, a group of students went on a hunger strike, and lassoed some vague and general demands into an agenda they hoped they would coerce the administration into accepting. Students dropped in and out of the strike, but the plurality went without food for 10 days.

On November 14, the administration met some demands it was planning to address anyway. Two days later, the hunger portion of the protest ended. Despite vows the protest would continue, the hunger strikers ended their campout on South Lawn a day later.

General focus areas of demands

  1. Administrative reform
  2. Further expansion of Ethnic Studies
  3. Core Curriculum reform
  4. Changes to the university's plan to expand into West Harlem (see Manhattanville expansion), viz [1]

"We demand:
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"


  1. Bryan Mercer, 22, a senior at Columbia (dropped out on 11/15)
  2. Samantha Barron, 19, Barnard sophomore from California
  3. Aretha Choi, 19, a Barnard sophomore from Colorado (dropped out on 11/11)
  4. Emilie Rosenblatt, 22, a Columbia senior from Illinois (dropped out on 11/15)
  5. Victoria Ruiz, 20, a Columbia junior from California
  6. Rich Brown, a Columbia junior (joined on 11/13)
  7. April Simpson, a Columbia freshman (joined on 11/13)



Lucha, the MSA, Take Back the Night, the College Democrats, SEEJ, the BSO, BOSS, SOL, Delta Sigma Theta, and the ISO were among student groups offering support. The CCSC, GSSC, and Barnard's SGA offered "statements of solidarity".

The strikers were also supported by some members of the faculty, notably Hamid Dabashi, Gil Anidjar, Nicholas De Genova, and Barnard PoliSci prof Dennis Dalton, who actually joined the strike. The entire faculty of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race has also declared support.

Alumni who visibly supported the strike included the hunger strikers of 1996, Mark Rudd, Jennifer Oki, Nell Geiser, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Anti-Columbia singer Nellie McKay was also an active supporter.


An informal anti-strike group was organized on Facebook by Aga Sablinska and held counter-protests.[2] At its peak, the group had over 720 Columbia-affiliated members.

The ESC was the only student group to officially oppose the strike. A Spec poll found that 64% of the student body did not support the strike and that 73% thought that the administration negotiating with them would set a bad precedent.

Anti-Manhattanville expansion Community Board 9 believed the methods employed by the strikers were unnecessary and counterproductive.

In a published report in Spec on November 15, Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo reportedly told CCSC President Michelle Diamond that the strike "is going to end one way or another tonight". Diamond subsequently issued a statement of her own, independent of the student government, asking for the strike to end. That day, the university prompted two strikers to drop out after threatening forced medical leave.


  • November 7: The strike begins, tents erected on Butler Plaza. In the evening, Christmas lights are displayed along fencing of the lawn. It is unclear whether or not the strikers received permission to use university electricity.
  • November 11: Aretha Choi, battler of an eating disorder, drops out after she is found nonresponsive in 209 Butler and subsequently rushed to St. Lukes Hospital.
  • November 14: At approximately 10:15 in the evening, Sam Rennebohm, a member of the ad hoc coalition in support of the strikers, surrounded by a crowd of approximately 200 supporters and onlookers, declares that on November 15 at noon, students will demonstrate to prevent events from taking placed as scheduled at the university, including an alumni dinner with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Negotiations with the administration came to a stand-still with no new meetings scheduled.[3] Shortly thereafter, Spec reports that a number of the strikers' demands have been met (see below).
  • November 15: Mercer and Rosenblatt drop out after being threatened with forced medical leave by Health Services; strikers' rally has a minimal impact due to rain. That night, anti-strikers hold a well-attended yet passive gathering on the Low Steps.
  • November 16: The remaining strikers break their fast, but the group declares it will still be camping out in protest and holding nightly vigils as part of "Phase Two". The anti-strikers announce their intention to continue their activities as well.
  • November 17: Just one day after vowing to remain camped out on Butler Plaza, the strikers took down their tents, turned off their holiday lights, and took their cardboard octopus home. That's all folks.


Columbia College dean Austin Quigley and Arts and Sciences VP Nicholas Dirks tried to preempt the strike with announcements they were willing to make new administrative hires to represent diversity concerns, and pledged further study regarding the status of the Core Curriculum. The Manhattanville expansion was never really on the table.

On November 14, Spec reported that the strikers had won the inclusion of a Major Cultures seminar to become part of the Core Curriculum, transforming the existing Major Cultures distribution requirement. Later, the univesity seemed to suggest that reform of Major Cultures would simply involve various departments' "submission of new syllabi". Either way, this will require a $50 million fundraising project. Among the other major goals the administration agreed to was mandatory anti-oppression training for incoming faculty.


External links