Over a dozen students from various California State University campuses initiated a hunger strike last Thursday, May 3. As of Sunday, May 6, the hunger strike participants had yet to consume any food, although they were provided with vegetable juice.
The students, who hail from campuses such as CSU Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Northridge, Sacramento and San Bernardino, have vowed to fast until administrators honor their numerous demands: a 5-year freeze on tuition, the elimination of campus presidents’ housing and car allowances, an end to executive pay increases and the protection of students’ free speech rights. “Campuses are monitoring the situation, and are prepared to render students medical assistance if needed,” stated CSU spokesperson Erik Fallis.
The hunger strike was organized by Students for Quality Education, a student group funded by the California Faculty Association (CFA). The CFA, which represents 23,000 CSU employees, recently announced that they voted to authorize a strike if negotiations over salary, class sizes and other issues persist. The vote could result in two-day long strikes at the 23 campuses which would take place during the fall, and potentially delay the start of classes.
The students’ demands related to tuition freezes and free speech extensions are notable considering the recent events that have impacted the CSU campuses; in November, CSU students were pepper sprayed outside of a trustees meeting in Santa Monica. Meanwhile, a 9 percent tuition hike is planned to take place this fall, which will raise the annual undergraduate tuition to $5,970 (excluding campus fees, which are sometimes over $1,000).
The students say they will continue fasting, regardless of the decline in their health, until these demands are met. In a telephone news conference with the LA Times, Donnie Bessom, a student at Cal State Long Beach who is participating in the strike, stated that students have long expressed their concerns to university leaders but were ignored.
“We’ve talked to state legislators, written petitions, mobilized people on campus. The next step for us is in the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. They keep raising salaries and have those other luxuries, and we thought the symbolic nature of a hunger strike was appropriate to the crisis,” stated Bessom.
Eugene Kim, a third-year student at UC Riverside, believes that the hunger strike will be effective in highlighting the current problems with California’s funding in education. “Administrators will recognize how serious this is getting,” stated Kim in an interview with the Highlander.
“Our main concern is the students’ health,” stated CSU spokesperson Claudia Keith, in an article by Dailybreeze. She noted that the end of the school year was approaching and that the students will soon be studying for final exams. “We wouldn’t want them to jeopardize their health,” stated Keith.
Other campus representatives have taken a different tone that is more critical of the hunger strike. “It would be a shame if anyone were to do any harm to themselves over the issues they are asking us to review,” stated Mike Uhlenkamp, another CSU spokesperson, in an article by the LA Times. He noted that it is important for the students to have a voice and state their opinions but that “what they’re doing is going about it the wrong way.”