Members of an Asian-American student group at UC Irvine began a hunger strike and camp-out "vigil" Thursday in protest over what they see as the university's slow response to their longstanding demands for an Asian-American studies program.
The students said they plan to live in tents outside UCI's Cross-Cultural Center and go without food in shifts for the next month, until the academic term ends.
Organizers announced the hunger strike at a press conference Thursday afternoon after the passing of the deadline they had set for acting Chancellor L. Dennis Smith to respond to their demands.
They want the university to allocate four future teaching positions for an Asian-American studies program, give students a role in recruitment and retention of professors of Asian and Pacific-American studies and hire two coordinators for Asian-American programs.
Asian students make up about 40% of the student population at UCI.
"How can UCI boast that it is a world-class institution when they don't have an (Asian-American studies) program?" said 20-year-old economics major Charles Lee. "We want to show that there is definitely interest on this campus for Asian-American studies."
Lee and the other protesters hoped that Smith would attend Thursday's event. Instead, university officials distributed a written statement that highlighted UCI's efforts to expand Asian-American educational programs.
The two-page statement said that the university is recruiting candidates for three teaching positions for an Asian-American studies program and that students are allowed under university policy to sit on faculty search committees.
It also listed several prominent Asian-American writers--including playwright Frank Chin and novelist Maxine Hong Kingston--who have recently given talks on campus.
The statement did little to sway the protesters, who said that the three Asian-American faculty positions had been promised for more than a year and that the university should strive to hire a total of seven.
As for the guest lecturers, Lee said: "They don't teach here. They give their opinions . . . and never see the university again. . . . It's not enough."