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University Beat / Apple News

USF students start a hunger strike to protest school's investments in pro-Israel companies

Students taking part in a hunger strike gathered in the Marshall Student Center lobby in Tampa ahead of the USF Board of Trustees meeting Monday.

As the war in Gaza continues, 18 University of South Florida students have started a hunger strike to protest the school’s investments in companies they say are helping Israel.

The students — many of whom are members of the group Students for Socialism — gathered in the Marshall Student Center lobby in Tampa Monday ahead of the USF Board of Trustees meeting.

While the group has a number of demands, including university president Rhea Law publicly calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, their largest complaint is with USF investing in five companies: Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Caterpillar.

The group discovered the investments in these corporations in the school's non-public investment portfolio, according to group member Cadence Ortiz.

“We want them to call for a ceasefire, publicize the investment portfolio and establish a student oversight committee,” said Ortiz.

Since 2003, various student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, have made multiple divestment efforts. According to Ortiz, none have been successful.

“That’s why we’ve continued to escalate,” said Ortiz. “And now our escalation is the hunger strike.”

While the students silently protested during the trustees’ meeting by holding up a banner in the back of the ballroom, five members of the group spoke during the public comment period to scold the board, sometimes in profane language.

A group of students stand against a wall. Some hold signs, others hold a Palestinian flag in front of themselves.
Madelyn Todd
Members of the USF hunger strike protested silently during the USF Board of Trustees meeting March 19, 2024. After a number of them spoke during the public comment period, Trustee Chair Will Weatherford responded to some of their charges. Some in the group replied loudly to his comments, leading to officials and law enforcement escorting them from the USF Marshall Center Ballroom.

“It is pathetic on your part that we have to resort to these means of a hunger strike to get our demands finally met,” said USF student Alina Atiq. “But if that's what it takes for you to listen to your students once and for all, and stop profiting from the genocide, then so be it. I and 17 others will go without food starting today until you divest.”

Other members who addressed trustees said that they had “blood on their hands” for their perceived lack of action in aiding those affected by the war.

Will Weatherford, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, responded.

“I appreciate and respect your right to have a voice. And I appreciate that you're as passionate as you are about this. There's nothing wrong with that,” Weatherford said. “I don't appreciate language that is offensive. I don't appreciate people calling us liars.

“And I don't appreciate the thought that we can do something that we can't actually do -- because we don't actually invest directly in the stocks that have been portrayed.”

Weatherford also said that Israel has a right to defend itself, while also having compassion for Palestinian people. The statement provoked shouts of protest from the students, who were then removed from the meeting by University Police and other administration officials.

“They are entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own set of facts,” Weatherford added at the end of the meeting. “Sometimes people will keep saying things, they think if they say that it's true, and in this instance, is not.

“And so I tried to be respectful of that, make sure they have a role here to express their opinions, but also make sure that you understand and people who are listening understand that they're not entitled to their own set of facts.”

The chairman also advised the students and their parents that going on a hunger strike is very dangerous, adding that the students were going in the wrong direction, and there were more productive ways to have their voices heard.

Students for Socialism had originally planned the hunger strike, but university officials issued a cease and desist letter that stopped that effort. Instead, the students came together with no affiliation with any campus organization in order to hold the strike.

The group is planning to hold other protests the rest of the week, including:

  • Tuesday: March for Gaza
  • Wednesday: Sit-in at the Marshall Student Center
  • Thursday: Die-In for divestment at the Marshall Student Center
  • Friday: Power hour inside the Patel Center
  • Saturday: Power half hour
  • Sunday: Power half hour
Calendar of a week's work of events
The group of USF hunger strikers has put together a first week worth of events.

Madelyn Todd is a WUSF-USF Zimmerman Rush Family Digital News intern for spring of 2024.