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USF students end hunger strike over school's investments in pro-Israel companies

Students holding signs and flags in a lobby.
Madelyn Todd
Members of a USF hunger strike protested the university's investments and requested USF officials call for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza during a sit-in in the Marshal Student Center on March 18, 2024.

The organizers announced that although USF officials did not meet their demands, they are encouraging members to end the protest due to health concerns. The group also said it will continue its efforts.

A small group of students at the University of South Florida has ended its hunger strike in protest of the school’s investments in companies that support Israel in the war in Gaza.

The students announced Wednesday that although USF officials did not meet their demands, they are encouraging members to end the protest due to health concerns.

An undisclosed number of students sought hospitalization during the 17-day strike.

The demands included USF president Rhea Law publicly calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the school’s divestment in Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Caterpillar.

The group said it will take its campaign "in a new direction" with “a new chapter of escalation."

Among those plans is taking their demands to the USF Student Government and another petition calling on the school to divest from the companies. A similar drive in 2014 drew more than 10,000 signatures, but the university took no action.

“While our demands were not met, we are merely beginning our fight for divestment at USF, the group wrote on Instagram.

“We are beyond thankful for the outflow of support, for the 30+ strikers, community organizers and individual students who have shown their support over the past 3 weeks. We will ensure our community is not complicit in genocide, and divestment is inevitable.”

The hunger strike began March 18 with 18 students. Eventually, several were hospitalized, including organizer Alina Atiq, who said she lost 70 pounds. About a dozen more students then joined the effort.

At one point, the students said they were denied medical care at the campus Student Health and Wellness Center, but the university noted that several participants were treated there and encouraged them to find another form of protest that does not put their safety at risk.

As the strike began, students went before the USF Board of Trustees with their demands.

Chair Will Weatherford told them, “I appreciate and respect your right to have a voice,” but added the school can't comply “because we don't actually invest directly in the stocks.”

WUSF’s Madelyn Todd and Mark Schreiner contributed to this report.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.