By Julissa James
The dozens of students who traveled from the 23 Cal State campuses to protest in front of Chancellor Timothy P. White’s office in Long Beach on March 22 were not enough to stop the Board of Trustees from voting in favor of a 5 percent tuition increase.
The demonstrators, many of whom were students of color, turned the protest into what seemed like a ceremony. One student, who traveled from San Francisco State University, filled the air with smoke as he burned sage outside of the trustees’ meeting. Some danced in circles, while others beat on drums hung around their necks.
The crowd chanted, “No justice, no peace, no tuition increase!” and “Education is a right, not just for the rich or the white!” while holding up signs with messages like: “Don’t be a DeVos,” in reference to the newly appointed U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.
Students for Quality Education, a grass-roots organization with chapters at 18 CSUs, including Dominguez Hills, had a large presence at the demonstration. Members of the California Faculty Assn., which works in conjunction with SQE, were also there in support of the students.
Vivian Price, SQE advisor and co-president of the CFA at Dominguez Hills, feels strongly about the adverse effects the tuition hike would have on her students.
“I asked my students to write me and tell me what they thought about the tuition hike,” she said. “I spoke in [the trustees meeting] about how many of them think that it might threaten their ability to stay in college. A lot of them are either helping their families or they are already strapped.”
Knowing the already difficult situations her students are in concerns Price.
“They’re working overtime. One student is collecting bottles for cash and taking care of her three kids. Another student is worried about her undocumented husband and saving every penny in case something happens … If we really want student success, how can we even consider raising any fees?”
Daniel Basilio, a mechanical engineering major who traveled eight hours with his SQE chapter from San Jose State, is afraid the tuition hike will send him further into debt.
“People are saying we should ask for debt forgiveness, but I don’t think we have anything to be sorry about,” Basilio said. “Education is a right, not a privilege, and we shouldn’t be punished for wanting to pursue something we deserve.”
Justin Blakely, president elect of Associated Students Inc. at CSUDH, wore all black in solidarity with other CSU students anticipating the trustees’ decision.
“A CSU tuition increase, plus the fees that are going to be implemented by our own university next year, is totally unfair,” Blakely said. “It takes away from the graduation initiative that the very (same) CSU that’s giving us this tuition increase, is proposing. How are we supposed to graduate in four to five years if we continue to get more fees added to our tuition? That’s going to hold us back.”
Blakely also worries about Dominguez students who are forced to pay their tuition out of pocket.
“There is a good 30 percent of student’s within the CSU who aren’t eligible for financial aid — I think about those students,” he said. “It’s really a disappointment. I am very disappointed within our Chancellor’s Office for allowing this to happen. I put faith in our students to make sure we are being as outspoken as we can to make sure these tuition increases don’t happen again.”
This is the reality for Jesse Seale, a CSUDH sophomore who is already $9,000 in debt because of insufficient financial aid.
“I’m a student who’s trying to get an education, trying to get a good career, trying not to [end up] living at my parents’ house even with a college degree,” he said.
Seale is a first-generation college student who does not have the extra $270 to spend on tuition. He represents many within the CSU system. One third of CSU students are the first in their families to go to college.
This was well reflected at the demonstration. A number of students shared their stories, explaining how the tuition hike would only add to their already significant struggles.
One student, an SQE member from San Francisco State, told her story of struggling with mental illness while trying to pay for school. She received a wave of supportive yells and applause from the crowd.
Despite a long morning of shouting at the trustees through a megaphone, protesters were left disappointed. The board voted 11 to 8 in favor of the 5 percent fee hike, eliciting a wave of emotion from demonstrators who vowed not to give up.