In this space, we've periodically tried to highlight some of the many examples that demonstrate that student activism is alive and well, even if under-reported by the media. We've featured the student organizers of SNAP, the eco-activists with the Campus Climate Challenge and the culinary whizzes behind Campus Kitchens Projects, a student-led initiative that coordinates food donations, prepares and delivers meals to social service agencies, and teaches food preparation and culinary skills to unemployed and underemployed men and women.
Now, Nation writer, author and professor of politics at Occidental College Peter Dreier writes in calling attention to a group of twelve Purdue University students who are entering the 19th day of a hunger strike to get their school to adopt the Designated Supplier Program.
Designed to encourage colleges and universities to purchase clothing from socially responsible companies instead of sweatshop-driven corporations, the DSP has already been adopted by twenty schools, including Duke, Syracuse, Smith, Skidmore, Columbia, Georgetown and the entire University of California system. (Click here and here to read two Nation articles by Dreier detailing the DSP.)
The Purdue students are trying to make a simple point: "I think workers' rights should be extended to people not just in the United States but internationally," Bill Slavin, a chemistry graduate student who said he has not eaten solid food since Nov. 17 told the Indianapolis Star. "I don't think it's fair for companies to go to other countries and exploit workers."
The students say they will stop the hunger strike when university president Martin Jischke signs a document that will ensure Purdue apparel will be manufactured in factories where workers can earn a living wage and have the freedom to be represented by democratic unions.
Why hunger strikes? The answer say the students is that years of lobbying official channels by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Purdue Organization for Labor Equality (POLE) have had little impact and they feel the need to pump up the volume. "While drastic, this tactic of non-violence shows people we're not messing around; that we take the issue seriously and the lengths we're willing to go," hunger striker Nathan Jun told the Purdue Exponent.
President Jischke has agreed to meet with four of the student activists tomorrow, December 6, to discuss their concerns. It remains unclear however how serious the president is about actually addressing the students' grievances.
Here's how you can help convince Jischke to do the right thing:
**Sign the hunger strikers' online petition.
**Join the campaign's Facebook page.
**Email or call (765-494-9710) the Purdue Board of Trustees to support the strikers.
**Find out more and circulate word about the campaign.