Twelve students across seven Cal State Universities vowed to stop eating Wednesday at midnight in hopes of persuading CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed to cooperate with the students’ demands.
The active campuses include Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State San Bernardino and Sacramento State.
The Students for Quality Education (SQE) chapters at the respective universities organized the hunger strike.
Donnie Bessom, 27, a political science graduate student at Cal State Long Beach is currently the only demonstrator participating for the duration of the systemwide strike. Two other Cal State Long Beach students and SQE members, Cesar Cabrera and Tito Alonso, will be fasting for several days in solidarity with Bessom.
“We have failed leadership,” said Bessom. “Our chancellor is overtly corrupt — he’s giving raises to executives when he shouldn’t be, so we wanted to step it up to put pressure on him.”
Tuition hikes have affected students and forced them to take out loans to pay for tuition, said Bessom, who has accumulated a debt of about $60,000 in loans.
“I work three jobs, and I had to quit a job to take care of my dad,” Bessom said. “So, for me, it was really hard. It’s like sometimes people have to choose between paying rent or paying tuition.”
The students participating in SQE’s hunger strike are calling for a five-year tuition freeze, the elimination of housing and car allowances for presidents and executives, a reduction in administrative pay to 1999 levels and the removal of restrictions on free speech at the universities and at the chancellor’s office, where students are only given half an hour to speak their concerns, Bessom said.
“They keep increasing (salaries) as if nothing’s happening, as if there is no crisis,” Bessom said. “So, we’re saying, ‘Listen, we’re at 1999 levels for school, why aren’t you at 1999 levels as administrators and executives?’”
The SQE hunger strikers have successfully scheduled their first meeting with Reed, after around a 10-year-long attempt, Bessom said. The meeting will take place Friday.
There will also be a solidarity event Saturday at The Neighborhood Church in Long Beach.
Protesters from Long Beach will be staying the night at The Neighborhood Church, where other protesters will be joining them for the event Saturday, Bessom said.
Bessom said the hunger strike will continue until the students’ demands are met, and he has prepared for that by drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated.
“I’m going to go as long as it takes,” Bessom said.
Cathie Pacheco, 21, a double major in gender and women’s studies and Central American studies at Cal State Northridge, is one of the four students participating in the SQE hunger strike her school.
Pacheco said the first day of the Northridge hunger strike was “great,” and attracted attention from the media, professors, the Associated Students president and students throughout the day.
“There has constantly been people at our table,” said Pacheco. “The hunger strikers are doing well.”
Some professors from the Chicano studies, women’s studies, and communication studies departments at Cal State Northridge will hold a “blessing ceremony” Thursday for their respective campus’ hunger strikers, Pacheco said.
“A few of our professors are actually going to do a blessing ceremony for the hunger strikers tomorrow at four … giving a chance to commemorate the hunger strikers for the sacrifice that they’re doing since they are putting … their bodies on the line for our education and for future generations’ education,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco said she will remain in communication with the other schools’ movements.
“We’re definitely going to be contacting through Facebook, of course, and emails,” Pacheco said. “We’re constantly working on communicating about what’s going to happen next week at the Board of Trustees and also what’s going to be happening on Friday with the meeting with Chancellor Reed.”
Nigel Etem, 23, a film major at Cal State Long Beach, said the tuition increases have affected students financially and the prolonged the time it takes to attain a degree. However, a hunger strike will not work without student awareness.
“I don’t think it will really make an impact at all — especially when half of the students, if not more, don’t know anything about it,” said Etem.
Some of the hunger strike sites have someone on location to keep track of the protesters’ health, like Nestor Guzman, a pre-film major at Cal State Long Beach.
“I’m here for support, but I’m also the medical person,” said Guzman. “I’m certified in standard first aid and so I’m just here to keep track of them, just to make sure that nothing happens — just to keep record of how their health is doing throughout the last couple of days.”