SQE ends hunger strike

Photo by William Camargo/The Daily Titan

Students for Quality Education (SQE) ended their hunger strike after 10 consecutive days. According to a SQE press release, the 12 students ended their deliberate starvation after media coverage led to California lawmakers responding to their cause.

The demands of the group were to create a five-year freeze on tuition increases, eliminate all housing and car allowances for all 23 campus presidents, rollback executive salaries to 1999 levels and an extension of freedom of speech on all campuses.

SQE met with Chancellor Charles B. Reed on May 4. Reed responded to its demands, by saying, “Your demands … are not possible.”

On May 7, CBS-2 News broadcasted the story “Investigation Reveals Questionable Spending by CSU Chancellor’s Office,” which contrasted the SQE’s hunger strike with the lavish spending on food by the Chancellor’s Office.

CBS reporter David Goldstein uncovered records of $766,890.32 charged on CSU credit cards last year, leading the chancellor to be confronted about the expenditures.

In response to the CBS News report, Senator Ted Lieu sent a letter to the chancellor and the station calling for Chancellor Reed’s resignation. According to SQE members, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has invited the group to meet in Sacramento.

David Inga, the only SQE hunger striker at Cal State Fullerton, said that while there was some negative backlash about the hunger strike, it was successful in bringing awareness to the public.

“Whether or not (the public) agrees or disagrees with us … we forced people to critically engage in the world they are living in. I think that is a step in the right direction in terms of elevating the consciousness of people to enact some form of real change, (either) structural change or institutional,” said Inga.

The 12 hunger strikers set up camp at a Methodist church in Long Beach for most of the strike. Donnie Bessom, a Cal State Long Beach political science major, participated in the hunger strike.

Bessom said the response from lawmakers in Sacramento is the closest the group felt they could get to victory for the cause at this time.

“Obviously our demands are not off the table,” said Bessom. “Chancellor Reed is … very stubborn, so we are just trying to focus our energy now on pressuring decision-makers that affect him.”

Bessom said during the hunger strike that simple actions such as sitting and getting up were difficult for himself and the other strikers. As a result of the hunger strike, he has become sick and unable to hold down food. He said he and all of the other strikers are currently recovering at home, and they plan to take the next step when they meet with Newsom next week.

In Sacramento, he said, the group is going to press to democratize the CSU Board of Trustees.

“We are going to say … (that) this is what we want. We want to elect trustees directly,” Bessom said. “It’s the governor giving up power, but it will be empowering students (and) faculty to find the best representatives for the best interest of California students.”

Becky Asami, a Cal State Fresno geology major and SQE member, said the hunger strike turned out to be more successful than the group had planned. Although she was unable to participate in the hunger strike, she fully supported their sacrifice and the action shows the validity of their cause.

“I think the amount of public attention it has gotten is really … going to wake students up in the fall,” said Asami. “We’re going through another big batch of changes … There is not going to be anybody admitted in the spring of next year. We’re all looking at more tuition hikes and other (kinds) of fee hikes. So I think the attention of the hunger strikers, along with the present changes and the future changes, will get the student body motivated to do (more) organizing and actions.”

Originally featured in The Daily Titan

Amber Stephens