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‘I think we were forced into this position’: Hunger strike for Palestine continues

Students sit around on a blue tarp with a speaker standing. She is wearing a hijab and keffiyah and appears to be reading from her phone. In the background, there are signs saying “Hunger Strike for Palestine” and “Demand 1 Hold a Divestment Meeting”.
A “Hunger Strike for Palestine” begins on campus.
Sandeep Mangat / The Daily Princetonian

At least 17 undergraduates began a hunger strike on Friday morning to demand that the University meet with students to discuss financial and academic disassociation from Israel and to drop criminal and disciplinary charges against the 13 students arrested for occupying Clio Hall on Monday, April 29. 

“I think we are resorting to a hunger strike. I think we were forced into this position, really,” Sameer Riaz ’24, one of the strikers, told The Daily Princetonian on Saturday night.

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“Our demands are not that intense,” David Chmielewski ’24, another one of the strikers, said in an interview. “They’re simply to have a meeting and to grant amnesty to the students who are arrested and are being impacted through the disciplinary process.”

On May 6 at 11:30 a.m., a group of students, faculty, alumni, and postdocs met with University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 to discuss these demands. However, the meeting did not lead to a resolution, with organizers claiming that Eisgruber declined to meet any of them. According to protesters, the hunger strike will continue despite the meeting.

According to an Instagram story from organizers, 15 students continued to participate in the hunger strike as it entered its third day.

The strikers have a medical team on call 24-7, Chmielewski told the ‘Prince’ on Saturday, including medical supervision during the night. They were also checked for risk factors prior to beginning the strike, and have vital measurements taken twice a day. The students were also instructed to eat healthily before they began the strike.

“We are very well-supported here, but the political prisoners who are in Palestine do not have the same resources, the same medical support as we do,” Areeq Hasan ’24, another one of the strikers, told the ‘Prince.’

“If they want to let us starve, then they’re welcome to do that,” Chmielewski added.

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University spokesperson Jennifer Morrill wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that Melissa Marks, the director of medical services at University Health Services (UHS), visited strikers on Friday and Sunday and has been in contact with one of the doctors monitoring the group.

“We care about their well-being,” Morrill wrote.

Morrill did not specifically address the demand for legal and disciplinary amnesty for the arrested students but wrote that “University administrators are always willing to meet with students to discuss their ideas and concerns when they request such conversations through the channels available to all members of the community.” She also said that the University offered on Friday for protesters to use the tent in McCosh Courtyard.

A blue tarp hangs between two trees. Below are several black and white umbrellas, and in the background is a brown brick building with green ivy.
Students assembled a makeshift shelter on Cannon Green as rain continued throughout the weekend.
Ryan Konarska / The Daily Princetonian
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Despite dropping temperatures and intermittent rain, a number of the strikers have remained at the sit-in, with some constructing a makeshift shelter using a tarp and a rope strung between two trees on the southeast corner of Cannon Green.

While technically not a tent, which University policy forbids, Public Safety (PSAFE) officers took issue with the structure early Sunday morning. Simón Gotera ’25, one of the hunger strikers, told the ‘Prince’ that officers asked marshals to take the tarps down because it was no longer raining.

“We felt a lot more of the wind, and the wind caused the water on the leaves [of the tree above], even though it wasn’t raining, to fall on us,” he said after the shelter had been disassembled. “It was very hard to rest in any way.” 

Students reassembled the lean-to on Sunday using umbrellas in addition to tarps. Gotera said shelter was also important to minimize light and other stimuli as the strike progressed. 

“A lot of us feel lightheaded and dizzy,” he said.

The students’ efforts mirror hunger strikes in April at Yale University and in February at Brown University, both of which ended after eight days. The strike comes as the sit-in in support of Palestine nears a week on Cannon Green and 11 days overall since it originated in McCosh courtyard on Thursday, April 25. 

The pace and manner of events at the sit-in has generally relaxed; whereas the first days featured a constant flurry of faculty, student, and other prominent University speakers, Friday and Saturday's events included poetry readings, a workshop on rolling grape leaves, and a teach-in on Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army and the step-aunt of rapper Tupac Shakur.

But the events at Clio Hall — where 13 students were arrested after briefly occupying the building and hundreds gathered outside for nearly three hours to demand arrested students be released — remain fresh for many on campus.

“The University has adopted this rhetoric in response to events like the peaceful sit-in at Clio that our presence on campus, either at the encampment or at the sit-in, are somehow making campus unsafe,” Chmielewski said. “The fact that the University is unwilling to meet [our demands for the hunger strike] is actually what is creating an unsafe environment.”

In a University-wide message on Monday night in response to the events at Clio Hall, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 wrote that “Everyone on this campus needs to feel safe and to be safe. Faculty, students, and staff must be able to conduct University business without disruption, harassment, or threat.” 

On Tuesday, Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun wrote to students, “This incident represented an escalation by protestors into unlawful behavior that created a dangerous situation for protestors, University staff, and law enforcement.”

A wide array of student affinity groups have taken issue with this language.

“In the name of ‘safety,’ University officials have deployed carceral and policing tactics, controlling students’ freedom of movement and policing their right to access spaces that were hard-won through years of student activism,” they wrote in an open letter published in the ‘Prince.’

“We also have the simple fact that a lot of students on campus feel that the administration’s actions limit their ability to have free expression, which in turn limits their ability to build community, to practice their religion,” Chmielewski said, citing an alleged incident inside of Clio Hall on Monday where a Black Muslim was forced to student pray the afternoon Asr prayer while in handcuffs.

Their strike, as well as the larger sit-in, are part of a more expansive movement, the three students said.

“Hunger strikes are part of a broader history and legacy of resistance and for justice,” Chmielewski said, citing the history of Palestinian political prisoners engaging in hunger strikes and the use of such actions in global resistance movements.

Hasan referenced the Shabbat services held at the sit-in on Friday as an example of the group‘s broader goals.

“When we were having a Qu’ran circle and Shabbat at the same time, the idea of trying to build a microcosm of the society that we want to live in at this encampment is something that we’re striving towards,” he said.

In addition to their demands for the University to engage in dialogue and drop charges against arrested students, the strike is ultimately about Gaza, Hasan said.

“I think one big component of this for us was really remembering the plight of the people in Gaza and Palestine.”

This piece has been updated to include information about a meeting between protesters and President Eisgruber that occurred after publication.

Miriam Waldvogel is an associate News editor and the investigations editor for the ‘Prince.’ She is from Stockton, Calif. and often covers campus activism and University accountability.

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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