Posted on Tue, Jun. 03, 2003
Stanford students on Day 6 of fast
STRIKERS WEAK BUT DETERMINED TO STAY THE COURSE
By Kim Vo
THE HUNGER STRIKE AT Stanford University entered its sixth day Monday, with
the six fasting students growing wan and weak.
They would often sit instead of stand, at times leaning on each other, eyes
glazed, as they tried to conserve their diminishing energy. But their words
remained resolute: They would not eat until Stanford vowed to to change its
labor policies, especially as they applied to low-tier workers: janitors,
cooks and other blue-collar employees.
The students are part of a campus movement trying to pressure Stanford to
create a universitywide labor policy that would address subcontracting,
living wages and educational opportunities for workers. Most important to
the activists is that students and the workers they're trying to help have
a key role in developing that policy.
Though Stanford adopted a limited living-wage policy last year, the
university in early spring rejected the broader code of conduct students
wanted. Stanford has said some of the students' demands were economically
naive and that the university would not give up the right to dictate its
But now, with students camped outdoors under a high hot sun and refusing to
eat for nearly a week, the university is feeling the pressure to
reconsider. President John Hennessy and high-ranking administrators spent
the weekend negotiating with students. After breaking off Saturday night,
talks resumed at 7 a.m. Monday. There was no agreement by 9 p.m.
``We're getting close. We're really getting there,'' student Amanda Cassel
told a crowd of more than a hundred students and workers at a noontime
Stanford's proposal ``would allow for important input into workplace
issues,'' said Gordon Earle, Stanford's vice president for public affairs,
who has participated in the negotiations. Under that offer, students and
workers would have the president's ear, but they would be limited to an
The university remains ``very, very concerned about the health of
students,'' Earle said.
The fast was organized by the Coalition for Labor Justice, which knits
together several student groups on the issue of workers rights. In the past
two years, these students have organized marches, camped out in front of
the president's office and been arrested for trespassing for protesting
subcontracting at the Stanford Medical Center.
The fast is the most extreme protest the group has done, and it's run the
gamut from righteous to ridiculous.
Example: The students were originally supposed to camp in front of the
president's office, but they didn't get permission to be there. They moved
when told because, though they are protesting the university's practices
and accusing them of being callous toward workers, they didn't want to get
And a student insisted that this action be called a fast not a hunger
strike because ``fast'' sounds respectful and ``hunger strike'' sounds like
students were pressuring administrators.
Before the fast began Wednesday afternoon, students finished their term
papers early and explained to their professors why they would be missing class.
A network of caretakers supervise the students 24 hours each day, making
sure they drink two water bottles every four hours, stay out of the sun and
rest. Reporters wanting to interview the students are asked to submit
questions in writing, carefully phrased not to upset the students, because
an interview's verbal jousting can tax their energy. There's usually
silence as students consider the question, and a few days into the fast,
the pauses were punctuated by growling stomachs.
A union employee takes the students' blood pressure and temperature several
times each day to monitor their health. Service Employees International
Union Local 715 represents 2,500 Stanford employees and has helped students
on many of their actions.
Workers visit the students each day, thanking them for their protest and
often bringing carnations to an altar that has been erected near the
``When workers come they thank us, but we can't do enough for them,'' said
Linda Tran, one of the strikers. ``They put in all this work to make the
Leticia Ramirez said she and her fellow students are determined to fast as
long as it takes, even though she's been dizzy and tired. ``If we fought
for two years,'' she said, ``why wouldn't we fight two more days, three
Contact Kim Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 688-7571.
© 2003 Mercury News and wire service sources