Protester feels effects of hunger strike

Ken Eisinger

Eric Tollefson is eating again.
The sophomore in the Chinese program resumed eating Sunday when his temperature reached 102 degrees, but continued to protest along with his peers this week.
“I show my support by being there,” Tollefson said on Tuesday, the seventh day of the hunger strike. “I’m talking to community leaders. I continue to do everything I can do.”
Tollefson supports the 11 remaining hunger strikers protesting understaffing in the Chinese program. The program currently has two tenured professors and two temporary professors. Officials in the College of Liberal Arts are extending offers to candidates for a third tenured faculty position. CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone said the position is slated to begin fall quarter.
Protesters are demanding an equal, independent department of East Asian languages and literatures and a fourth tenured professor. Now the program is in the East Asian Languages, Literatures and Linguistics department within the Institute of Linguistics and Asian and Slavic Languages.
In a Friday meeting, University administrators unveiled a $50,000-recruitment scholarship for Chinese studies and an 18.1 percent budget increase for the program.
The administrators’ response did not satisfy the protesters who continue to fast.
“I’m still sitting here to tell the administration that it’s losing more and more credibility,” Tollefson said.
The sophomore officially ended his fast on Easter when he took communion at his church.
After being banned from sitting inside University President Mark Yudof’s office Monday, protesters continued to fast just outside the office. A sign on Yudof’s outer office door proclaims the office a nonpublic area and stated that the protesting interfered with normal business operation in the office.
Allowing the students to sit in the office from Wednesday to Friday “was a gesture of good faith,” said Bob Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost. “We wanted to set the best context for our discussion (Friday). It was not a long-term arrangement.”
The protesters remain sitting outside Yudof’s office studying Chinese and drinking ginseng tea.
Tollefson dropped 14 pounds while fasting from Wednesday to Sunday. Sitting on the stairs in Morrill Hall, he reflected on his motivation to continue the strike.
Tollefson said he learned Spanish and Latin in high school and was drawn to language by the “power to communicate with people from other cultures or to read centuries-old texts.”
He recalls being fascinated in 1989 by Wang Dan, the most wanted leader of the Tianenmen Square protests, who was eventually imprisoned for six years. His interest in Dan’s struggle compelled him to pursue Chinese in college.
Tollefson said it is customary in Chinese classes to adopt a Chinese name; his second name is Wang Dan.
“It is about fighting for what’s right, even though authorities will try to oppose you,” he said, “whether they be the Chinese government or the University of Minnesota CLA dean and president.”