Grad students Ajay Chandra and Tim Bruno went more than 10 days without food until the hunger strike ended on Thursday, March 1.
The hunger strike at UVA has drawn national attention.
After a hunger strike lasting up to 13 days and following a statement from UVA administration declining to raise the minimum wage at UVA to $13 an hour, activists for the Living Wage Campaign at UVA suspended the strike on March 1– but they're declaring victory nonetheless.
"The administration was forced to acknowledge this Campaign," says former hunger striker Tim Bruno, "and, more importantly, the crisis of low wages and the invisibility of contract workers on our campus."
A grad student who went 11 days without eating, Bruno points to national media attention and University-wide emails sent by President Teresa Sullivan and V-P Michael Strine as evidence of impact.
"We have engaged the UVA student body in an unprecedented way," Bruno notes in an email to a reporter. "We have educated it in an unprecedented way."
A statement on the website of the Living Wage Campaign promises a coming escalation: "To this administration, which has so far failed to provide moral leadership to our University, we have only this to say: get ready, because we are already here. We will hold you accountable for your promises."
UVA laid down its position on February 29 in a statement by Strine, the school's chief operating officer, citing the challenges of "trying to hold down tuition, meet the growing demands for financial aid, grow student enrollment, advance learning and create knowledge, as we also serve the growing health care needs of patients across the Commonwealth."
While implicitly denying Living Wagers' demand, Strine did address some of the protesters' concerns, including giving "specific focus" to raises for the lowest-paid employees and examining the school's use of contractors.
The statement won immediate praise from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, which suggested that the demand that UVA raise its minimum wage, if not illegal, was clearly unwise.
"Our Chamber," according to President Timothy Hulbert, "is skeptical about achieving any real positive economic effects from governmental wage-fixing regulations." Hulbert claims that UVA– as the area's largest employer– could create a detrimental domino effect on other area businesses.
"The unintended consequences of even the most well-intentioned prescription can be injurious to the university, its contractors, and our greater community," he writes in a open letter to President Sullivan. "The sound management of the University, with its strong commitment to enhance the lives of its entire workforce and our community, is a far better path."
Such sentiments haven't deterred the Living Wagers, including Bruno, who lost 14 pounds during his 11 days without food. While describing the physical and psychological tolls as "brutal," he says he'd probably muster the will to do it again.
"The University of Virginia has perpetuated economic injustice throughout its history," Bruno asserts. "This was, above all, a moral victory over a University that has the resources to make lives better but chooses not to."