Group goes on fasting strike

The strike of 11 students and three University employees began Monday outside Morrill Hall.

Mike Rose

Coffman Union has a food court and a convenience store, and Washington Avenue is lined with restaurants and a small grocery store.

But for a small group of students, all of this and more has been shunned in protest the of University administration.

A hunger strike began Monday at noon in front of Morrill Hall. Eleven students were joined by an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union member, a University staff member and a University faculty member, said Isaac Kamola, a political science graduate student.

Living on a diet of juice and water, the protesters said the hunger strike is an effort to test the morals of the administration and force them to settle with AFSCME.

Kamola said the group moved to the east end of the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge Monday, in part to avoid rain.

The group remained at the bridge through Monday evening. On Tuesday, the demonstration resumed at the same spot at 9:30 a.m. The hunger strikers were expected to return to strike headquarters – the University Baptist Church – by 6 p.m.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said it is, “unfortunate when people choose to use their personal health to make a point in a labor dispute.”

Kamola, who participated in a sit-in during the 2003 AFSCME strike, said the hunger strike is aimed at stirring emotions.

“By taking this step, we can drum up visibility and moral outrage,” he said.

Richa Nagar, a University professor, said she decided to offer support to the students, whom she said were the driving force behind the hunger strike.

“A hunger strike is not about sacrificing oneself,” she said in a written statement. “It is essentially about bringing attention to an injustice by shaming those who propagate it.”

Nagar and Kamola both said they have been able to fulfill their teaching duties while participating in the hunger strike. Protesters are rotating in and out, allowing others to take care of daily tasks, Kamola said.

Visual arts sophomore Kyle Johnson said he deliberated for some time before finally deciding to join the hunger strike.

Johnson, who participated in the protest at the regents meeting, said he and other protesters have exhausted their options.

“We’ve expressed our support and our demands,” he said. “What else are we supposed to do?”

Sofi Shank, a global studies first year, was instrumental in starting the strike. She said it was a last resort that she hopes will pressure the administration into settling.

“We’ve been pushed to the brink,” she said.

Shank said going without food is tough, but she has been inspired to go on by the AFSCME strikers.

Going without food for too long can be more than just a minor discomfort for the protesters, said University nutritionist Christine Twait. Lack of food can lead to heart problems and muscle deterioration.

Without glucose, the human body begins to break down muscle tissue to feed itself, she said.

Twait added that other important nutrients, like protein and fiber, are nearly impossible to obtain through a fluid diet.

How long a person can go without eating depends largely on his or her prior nutrition level, she said. Typically, someone can go two or three days without suffering serious health problems, Twait said.

The University would supply a food nutritionist from Boynton Health Service, Wolter said, to meet with the hunger strikers and answer any questions they might have about the health issues associated with fasting.