Hunger Strike at CSU Campuses: A New Response to Old Complaints


Shelby Spees
Staff Writer

At several campuses across the state, California State University students are fasting until their demands are met. Refusing to consume anything but vegetable juice, students at CSU Northridge, Sacramento, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach and San Bernardino campuses are calling for a five-year hold on tuition hikes, the elimination of 23 campus president housing and car allowances, a cut in administrative salaries and an expansion of free speech rights across every campus.

The hunger strike, which began May 3 and is supposed to end May 9, marks a step up in student protest efforts.

“We’ve tried pretty much everything, and they just ignore us,” said CSULB student Donnie Bessom, 27, to the Los Angeles Times.

Taking cues from nonviolent protesters like Ghandi and Cesar Chavez, Cal State students chose a method that would send a stronger message.

“They keep raising salaries and have those other luxuries, and we thought the symbolic nature of a hunger strike was appropriate to the crisis,” said Bessom.

Students are not the only ones speaking out. Christopher Monty of Redondo Beach, a CSUN assistant history professor, wrote to the Los Angeles Times saying that “the university leadership does not represent the thousands of faculty and staff of Cal State,” emphasizing that the faculty stands with the students against “excessive executive compensation.”

Between students fasting and faculty supporting the strike, Cal State administrators might have reason to worry. Simone Wilson at LA Weekly wrote on Thursday, “That could be trouble for administrators, who are perfectly capable of raiding students’ bank accounts, but less prepared to face a mob of angry parents wondering why their children are in the ICU instead of class.”

LA Weekly quotes Erik Fallis, CSU spokesman, saying, “campuses are monitoring the situation, and are prepared to render students medical assistance if needed.”

Fallis also urges faculty to “advise students to voice their concerns in a way that doesn’t pose them any harm,” hoping to minimize the potential health risks of such a fast as well as backlash from parents and the community.
“They’ve been cutting classes… first we had furloughs, and then they cut all the classes. I can’t get morning classes because there aren’t any,” said Rebecca Thompson, senior history major at CSUN.
Despite not being involved in the hunger strikes, Thompson’s concerns echoed that of her peers.
“We just got a new president and she makes over $300,000 a year. What do these people do? Sure, we need someone to run the school, but they don’t need to be paid $300,000 a year,” said Thompson.

Budget issues have also impacted professors, who have problems getting classes, said Thompson.
“It’s just ridiculous because they get less time to teach but they’re expected to have the same set of standards.”

At the same time, some CSU campuses are still finding ways to spend that some would deem unnecessary and wasteful.

“Why are we seeking out grants to build a new student union when we don’t need a new student union building?” asked Thompson.