In a stunning show of solidarity and strength, over 1,000 students, faculty and allies overtook the State Capitol’s North side during CFA’s #FreeTheCSU day of action Wednesday, calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to increase critical funding for the California State University.
CFA leaders, members of Students for Quality Education (SQE), alongside top legislators, CSU Chancellor Tim White and Trustees, and CSU staff rallied for hours, with energetic chants of “Whose university? Our university!” and “When education is under attack, what do we do? Show up fight back!” filling the Capitol and surrounding area.
“It was inspiring to see so many people come together for the sake our university system and its future,” said Jennifer Eagan, President of CFA. “Everywhere you looked, faculty and students and supporters were hugging, smiling, sharing ideas and stories. The message to Gov. Brown was very clear—our students, our colleagues, and our university system deserve to be a priority in this state. We will not back down in our fight to preserve the People’s University and the high quality public higher education it provides.”
The day of activism began at dawn, with about 100 students silently protesting in front of the Governor’s Mansion in midtown Sacramento. As daylight peaked through trees and the 7 am city noise restriction lifted, students began their wake-up call to Brown.
“Show me what the Cal State looks like! This is what the Cal State looks like!”
The animated crowd of students, many of whom had traveled from southern California and stayed the night at a Sacramento church, then marched toward the Capitol where just a few hours later, they were joined by hundreds more of their peers and faculty from northern California CSU campuses.
The event was held on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and honored Dr. King’s lasting legacy on civil rights and education. In her remarks to the crowd, Cal State LA student Antoinette Saddler helped foster the connection between Dr. King’s work and the efforts to protect the CSU and public higher education.
“We know that since the CSU racial demographics have become majority students of color, we are receiving the least amount of state funding that we ever have. Our campuses are becoming less green, and more gentrified as they try to ‘appease’ the business world,” Saddler said. “They have focused on making these campuses look so professional they forget the moral responsibility to ensure students can afford to stay…Today, we are here to say no more. Today, we are here to demand that the state funds our dream, not the ones they have of their own.
“…True education is about intelligence and character, not stealing from the already struggling and marginalized students to fund what they think is best for us.”
Gov. Brown has proposed increasing CSU funding by just $92.1 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year. CFA is advocating that the budget augmentation for the CSU be increased by $422.6 million, which could increase access to the CSU to thousands more qualified students and help thwart yet another potential tuition increase.
Keeping the CSU affordable and accessible to Californians are “huge issues for the state Legislature,” state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told the crowd.
“I know first-hand how important the CSU is,” said Rendon, a CSU alumni and former faculty member. “We have to increase funding for higher education.”
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins urged students and faculty to “continue to make your voices heard.”
“We will do everything we can,” Atkins said.
CSU Chancellor Tim White, CSU Trustee Chair Rebecca Eisen, Trustee Lateefah Simon, and student Trustee Jorge Reyes Salinas were among participants Wednesday.
Chancellor White told those gathered at the rally that CSU students, as well as those who are academically qualified and turned away because of insufficient capacity, deserve “authentic access to our excellent learning environment fueled by remarkable faculty and staff.”
“Today, I join with the CFA—just as CFA’s Jen Eagan joined with me in advocacy here a few weeks ago—because when it comes to serving our students and California’s future, we are one together,” White said. “…I join the chorus of voices calling on our elected allies in Sacramento—whose districts are full of CSU students, employees, and alumni—to place our budget request at the top of their priorities during budget negotiations.”
Trustee Lateefah Simon said the CSU should not only be affordable, but “deeply accessible.”
“We can’t take no for an answer,” Simon said, her comments met with resounding applause and cheers. “I deeply believe that there is another way. We live in the most prosperous state in the country…and yet still we are in the face of (tuition) increases. We’re in the face of food insecurities. We’re in the face of homelessness.”
Sacramento State Professor Hellen Lee challenged Gov. Brown and Legislators from the podium, pointing out that it “looks suspicious to me that when the number of students of color in higher education rises, state funding for education falls.”
“Don’t just tell me that you support higher education, show me instead by ensuring adequate funding to the CSU,” Lee said. “Don’t just tell me that you support students of color, show me instead by restoring funding and reducing tuition levels comparable to when white students were the majority. Don’t just tell me that you want to invest in the future of California, show me instead by investing in the CSU today.”
In addition to the rally, the #FreeTheCSU event featured booths where students and faculty could write messages to the Governor, make screen-printed artwork, and interact with one-of-a-kind Augmented Reality art installations. Augmented Reality features can still be used for some of the artwork, such as the “Save My Education” poster by Xico González of Sol Collective.
CFA partnered with Sol Collective, a community-based nonprofit in Sacramento, for the Augmented Reality art, which featured everything from videos of students to celebrations of civil rights leaders, activists, and scholars.