Effects of not eating 'starting to set in' for McMaster hunger strikers on Day 4 of protest

A group of students at McMaster University have been on a hunger strike since Monday. Four of the students are seen here on Thursday. (Submitted by Navin Garg - image credit)
A group of students at McMaster University have been on a hunger strike since Monday. Four of the students are seen here on Thursday. (Submitted by Navin Garg - image credit)

A hunger strike started by a group of McMaster University students on Monday is taking a toll on their bodies, but they are determined to continue until the university takes action, a member of the group said Thursday.

The students want the university to reverse the decision to install four natural gas-powered generators on Cootes Drive in Hamilton.

Navin Garg, one of the students with the McMaster Divestment Project who is striking, said they abstained from food since 11 a.m. on Monday.

"I think the effects of not eating are really starting to set in. People are feeling nauseous, lightheaded. I know I'm feeling much weaker and much more tired," Garg told CBC Hamilton on Thursday.

"We're getting more and more worn down."

Michael To/CBC
Michael To/CBC

But Garg said they're "going to try to maintain momentum by continuing to hold rallies, continuing to engage with students, continuing to put out our petitions and get it signed."

Six students began the hunger strike on Monday, but one had to bow out a day later due to a pre-existing health condition. On Wednesday another student joined the strike, bringing the total number of students back up to six.

The students are calling for McMaster to stop the natural gas-powered generators, and for the university to divest from the fossil fuel industry. They are abstaining from eating food or leaving their spot at the McMaster University Student Centre atrium, except for showering, changing clothes and drinking water.

Students told strike would not speed up divestment

Garg said Sean Van Koughnett, the dean of students, met with them Thursday afternoon but there was no resolution.

Garg said the students were told the hunger strike would not expedite a divestment process because financial decisions are too complicated.

"The unwillingness of the university to respond to democratic pressure from students, faculty, politicians, community members, and NGOs makes clear that the university does not care what is morally right or democratic, but is only concerned with the bottom line and financial gain," they said.

"We will not be calling off our hunger strike until our health necessitates it."

CBC Hamilton requested comment from McMaster Thursday.

In an email on Monday, McMaster public relations manager Wade Hemsworth said that university leaders, including the president, met with students several times last week to urge them to reconsider a protest that puts their lives at risk.

Hemsworth previously told CBC Hamilton the generators, which are still under construction, will reduce demand on Ontario's electricity grid at peak times and help the school save money in the long run.

The McMaster Divestment Project said that in the 13 years before the project pays itself off, it will produce at least 8,900 tonnes of carbon.

Solidarity rally to be held Friday

The McMaster Divestment Project will hold a solidarity rally on Friday to maintain momentum for the strike, the group said.

Students will be sharing their experiences to those in attendance and will open the floor for students, community members and faculty to show their support.

Cordelia McConnell, a spokesperson for the group, said a petition launched by the McMaster Divestment Project has garnered more than 700 signatures from students. A faculty support letter has also been signed by dozens of people.

Sarah Jama, newly elected member of provincial parliament for Hamilton Centre, has also thrown her support behind the students.

"I'm in complete solidarity with @macdivest and their hunger strike," Jama wrote in a tweet. "These students pay *way* too much in tuition and housing to also be abstaining from food and water. That's how much they care about getting @McMasterU to divest from fossil fuels. Do better, Mac."

Students monitoring their own vitals

Garg says the students do not have a doctor monitoring them, and representatives of the university's Student Wellness Centre are not allowed to leave their assigned location on the campus to monitor people elsewhere.

"We do have like a student-led ambulatory first aid group that checks on us ever so often but we're monitoring our own vitals and our weight and blood pressure," Garg said.

"We're all in the green still for blood pressure … I'm not sure about the others' readings, but I know I've dropped like around two kilos since I started."