MEDFORD, Mass. - Five students at Tufts University began a hunger strike Sunday over the university's plans to cut about 35 janitorial jobs at the end of May.
More than 80 students, janitors and families of the staff gathered outside the main administrative building to mark the start of the strike, The Boston Globe reported. About a dozen tents were set up in a circle, and the student group organizing the demonstration, the Tufts Labor Coalition, said about 20 students would occupy the space to support the strikers.
"For me, I see this as the best way to garner mass attention," said freshman Mica Jarmel-Schneider, who said he plans to join the strike. "I have the ability with my body, and as a student ... the university has to listen to me."
He said he's participating because the janitors' contract prohibits them from going on strike. "We're doing this for them because of our relative privilege," he said.
The group said the cuts would mean one in six custodians at the school would lose their jobs.
A spokeswoman for the university north of Boston said the school supports the students' right to protest but said the cuts will help direct resources to Tufts' "core educational mission."
"There are no restrictions on their ability to access food or come and go," Kim Thurler said in a statement. "We are aware that some students have informed the media of a planned hunger strike but we hope that all participants will be mindful of their health and safety."
The hunger strike, which got underway just as Tufts begins its week of final exams, is part of an escalating dispute over the janitorial jobs.
Four Tufts students and three activists with the Service Employees International Union, which represents the janitors, were arrested Thursday after blocking traffic during a demonstration in Somerville.
One coalition member, Zoe Jeka, who also is joining the hunger strike, said the janitors have held weekly rallies.
"I'm really not sure how long it will take, but I'm willing to strike until I'm hospitalized," Jeka said.