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Princeton Hunger Strikers: Letter to the Board of Trustees

May 8, 2024

To the Board of Trustees of Princeton University:

Christopher L. Eisgruber ‘83

Philip Murphy

Kamil Ali-Jackson ‘81

José B. Alvarez ‘85

Jackson A. Artis ‘20

Joshua B. Bolten ‘76

Pete Briger ‘86

Beth Cobert ‘80

Marisa J. Demeo ‘88

Janeria A. Easley ‘16

Blair W. Effron ‘84

Henri R. Ford ‘80

Lori D. Fouché ‘91

Heather K. Gerken ‘91

Yolandra Gomez ‘88

Philip U. Hammarskjold ‘87

Naomi I. Hess ‘22

Rober J. Hugin ‘76

Yan Huo ‘94

Kimberly H. Johnson ‘95

Kathy F. Kiely ‘77

Timothy M. Kingston ‘87

Anthony H.P. Lee ‘79

Nandi O. Leslie ‘05

Paul A. Maeder ‘75

Mutemwa R. Masheke ‘23

Elizabeth Prus Myers ‘92

Carol Quillen ‘91

Gordon P. Ritter ‘86

Kathryn Roth-Douquet ‘91

Louise S. Sams ‘79

Bradford L. Smith ‘81

Morgan A. Smith ‘ 21

Sarah E. Stein ‘97

Carla B. Vernón ‘92

Melissa H. Wu ‘99

Jackie Y. Ying ‘91

CC: Hilary A. Parker, Vice President and Secretary of Princeton University

Dear Honorable Trustees,

We are students of Princeton University currently engaging in a hunger strike in response to actions taken by the Princeton administration. As members of the Princeton community, we are writing to you given your fiduciary role to uphold Princeton’s mission and safeguard its reputation. We request that you use your authority to urge our University to communicate with us through transparently-maintained processes of deliberating divestment and disassociation from institutions and businesses complicit in the genocide currently being conducted by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the illegal settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and all of occupied Palestine.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity  in Gaza constitute a case of “plausible genocide.” This ruling set into motion an ongoing investigation into the charge against Israel of committing genocide. The March 2024 Report of the United Nations “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” states that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met.” At the time of writing, close to 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, with over 77,000 injured and countless more displaced or missing. A UN official has said that over 70 percent of housing in Gaza has been destroyed

Dr. Lee Mordechai, a Davis Center Fellow at Princeton University, Princeton alumnus ’17, and faculty member of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, states: “The evidence I have seen indicates that one of Israel’s very likely objectives is to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip, whether in part or in total, by removing as many Palestinians as feasibly possible.” 

Given that we are currently witnessing a genocide, we have pursued all possible channels of communication with the offices of our administration — including the President, the Dean of Students, the Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs, and the Dean of Student Life, as well as numerous other authorities on campus. Until this point, despite our call for an open and serious process regarding Princeton’s potential ties to this genocide, our university administration has repeatedly refused to provide an efficacious process for addressing our concerns.

On April 25th, Princeton undergraduate and graduate students established an encampment in McCosh Courtyard in solidarity with the Palestinian people, beginning a series of nonviolent demonstrations protesting Princeton’s involvement in the genocide unfolding in Gaza. Our university administration has reacted only with arbitrarily enforced policy changes that stifle students’ rights to free expression and peaceful protest. Our administration has released misrepresentations and mischaracterizations of events in its official statements, an attempt on their part to promote the false narrative that peaceful protestors make campus unsafe, even calling the police to arrest student demonstrators and, in addition, barring students from campus for protesting.

On April 29th, five undergraduate seniors, six graduate students, one postdoctoral fellow, and one Princeton Theological Seminary student were arrested after staging a sit-in of Clio Hall. This action was taken in line with long-standing traditions of nonviolent civil disobedience drawn from the Civil Rights movement, traditions of Palestinian civil disobedience, and the rich history of peaceful protests at Princeton itself, such as the 1978 anti-apartheid sit-in at Nassau Hall that lasted twenty-seven hours, the 2015 Black Justice League sit-in at Nassau Hall that lasted thirty-two hours, and the 2019 Title IX sit-in that lasted nine days. Rochelle Calhoun, the Vice President for Campus Life, falsely characterized the sit-in as aggressive and abusive toward university staff in the building. Statements released by faculty observers present during the sit-in as well as the sit-in participants themselves tell the truth: the sit-in was entirely peaceful, measured, and communicative. The university called the police to arrest student demonstrators, many of whom are from minoritized groups who face disproportionate risk of police violence. It also pains us to report to you that amongst those arrested are one third of the graduating seniors in the Department of African American Studies. In effect, our administration jeopardized the safety of students in order to suppress protests. This recent, and to us inexplicable, criminalization of a nonviolent sit-in marks a sharp departure from Princeton’s past. As Princeton Professor Keith Wailoo writes: 

“What do past precedents teach us about current administrators’ hasty calls for police to arrest students, institution of bans from campus, and support for prosecution? For one, it shows a university willfully ignoring its own past and undermining its values. To be sure, university leaders of the past were critical of students’ employment of sit-ins as a protest tactic, but they were willing to meet, debate, and — occasionally — even listen and change course. Administrators and leaders of earlier eras, unlike our own, were too deeply committed to education, discussion, and open debate — even when they disagreed with students’ beliefs, tactics, and proposals — to quickly call police to campus to arrest student demonstrators. 

In light of this history, however incomplete, the actions of Princeton’s current leadership is a shocking departure from a long tradition of thoughtful, measured engagement.”

Our hunger strike began on May 3rd at 10:00 AM. We are thirteen Princeton students. That afternoon, there were eighteen hunger strikers. An additional thirty-eight people have joined the strike through solidarity fasts, with numbers increasing every day. We have been engaging in a hunger strike in solidarity with the millions of Palestinians in Gaza suffering under the ongoing siege by the state of Israel. Our strike is in response to the administration’s refusal to initiate a campus-wide conversation about our demands for disclosure, dissociation, and divestment from Israel, alongside our demand for complete amnesty for our peers who have been unjustly criminalized, barred from campus, and evicted after the sit-in at Clio Hall.

We hunger strikers have lost weight and are actively experiencing many symptoms including dizziness, painful hunger pangs, critically low blood pressure, and exhaustion, and we continually face greater potential health risks including seizures and pneumonia.

Yet we carry on, because our strike is not a suffering of choice but of necessity. The extremes we face are nothing in light of the immense and unimaginable suffering of the Palestinians facing systematic genocide in Gaza, which has yet to be acknowledged by our university’s leadership. This is unconscionable.

In addition to allowing students to starve instead of engaging them in a substantive process, our University administration has actively contributed to endangering us. They have refused to allow us to form any kind of makeshift shelter from the cold and rain even though we are immunocompromised due to our extended fast. The mere hanging of a tarp to shield us from the elements led the Department of Public Safety to force us to take it down. The administration has claimed that they “care about their wellbeing,” but their health staff has never spoken directly to any of us nor do they know who each of us are. Our administration has given us no indication whatsoever that they care for our health or safety. If our University administration cares for our well-being, it must convene a process to deliberate our demands and allow us to stop starving on our university’s lawn immediately. Therefore, we call upon our Board of Trustees to urge the administration to address these matters and ensure that they take our concerns seriously.

From a place of deep frustration and anger at our ongoing mistreatment, we join in the calls raised by nineteen cultural affinity groups on campus and over 200 students  and almost 200 faculty calling out the administration for mischaracterizations and harmful actions which have put students’ physical and mental health at severe risk. For instance, our safety, health concerns and demands were not mentioned in a recent email sent by President Eisgruber to the undergraduate student body.  Islamophobic and racist attacks that our peers have faced on campus were also not touched upon. We mention all of this after our Hunger Strike gathering area was vandalized on May 5th by two individuals. If private and public universities — such as Brown University, Northwestern University, UC Riverside, and Rutgers University — can put on track good faith negotiation processes with their student protestors, why can’t our own University listen to us, its own students? What more beyond starving ourselves under the sun and in the rain must we do to get our administration’s attention?

Our current administration’s actions – countering Princeton’s history of protest by cracking down on peaceful protestors and refusing to drop charges against them, endangering our health and safety, and neglecting our demands for initiating a deliberation process – and distorted statements are endangering our university’s leading commitment to student wellbeing, inclusion, diversity and community. We therefore request your intervention as the Board of Trustees, members of our Princeton community who have the ultimate authority to hold leadership accountable and ensure that we have a safe, vibrant campus community. That starts with trust and open lines of communication.

We look forward to hearing from you.


The Princeton Hunger Strikers

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