from The Badger Herald

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Students kick off hunger strike

by Sundeep Malladi

YANA PASKOVA/Herald photo

Students from several University of Wisconsin campuses around the state began a three-day hunger strike Monday, asking state legislators to alter their stand on tuition, which has jumped 37.5 percent since 2003.

UW, UW-Eau Claire and UW-LaCrosse are participating in the hunger strike. The strike includes several Madison groups including the Associate Students of Madison, the Student Labor Action Coalition, the MultiCulturual Student Coalition, Green Progressive Alliance, MEChA and the Teaching Assistant Association.

Twenty-five students will protest everyday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. until Wednesday morning in the Capitol Rotunda, taking only water for nourishment. Many students believe the high price of Wisconsin tuition is damaging with respect to allowing a diversity of students into the UW System.

Students in Madison are demanding tuition be rolled back to its 2003 standing, rather than allow Gov. Jim Doyle's executive budget proposal of a 5 to 7 percent increase in the next two years.

ASM Chair of Academic Affairs Ashok Kumar said the tuition raise was "legalized neo-segregation."

"It seems the big-business lobbyists are getting their way with legislators," Kumar said. According to Kumar, the poorest 40 percent of the families in Wisconsin make up only 14 percent of the UW population.

"We don't have 12 million dollars [to lobby with] we have ourselves," Kumar said. "It's sad, but that's the reason we're doing this hunger strike."

The raised tuition may also affect students of color.

Coordinator for the Diversity Education Program Suri Kempe said tuition hikes are not only an economic issue but also a racist policy. "Raising tuition by 56 percent only feeds a racist system that marginalizes communities of people and denies them entry into college and opportunities for a better life," Kempe said.

Other students protested, believing legislators' priorities were adrift.

UW student Alison Goetsch said the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance Sen. Scott Fitzgerald proposed the construction of an additional prison recently. "We are here because we believe that investing in the students and families of Wisconsin is more important than investing in prisons or the interests of big-business lobbyists," Goetsch said.

While students in Madison are asking for a rollback on tuition, students in Eau Claire are requesting a freeze on tuition.

President of the UW Eau Claire Progressive Students Association said they added five people to their group, pushing the total number of their protesters to 27, despite not receiving as much attention from the media as they would have liked. "The more people we get, the more news coverage, the more effective our message," Werthmann said.

Werthmann said he did not agree with Madison students' decision to ask for a rollback in tuition and was concerned about their message.

"I think it could be dismissed quite readily [by legislators], I think it could be detrimental to our efforts," Werthmann said. "Eau Claire students know what's best for Eau Claire, and Madison students know what's best for Madison."

While Kumar said he agreed a freeze would be excellent, he still believed rolling back was the right course of action.

"Right now if we freeze [tuition], it's still freezing at [the] 37 percent increase," Kumar said.

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