The writer is on her fourth day on a hunger strike as part of the Basic Needs Campaign at the University of Kentucky

Students on hunger strike at the University of Kentucky

Several students have gone on full-time hunger strike at the University of Kentucky to demand that the school ensure that the basic needs of working class students are met. In addition to those who are willing and able to wage a full-time hunger strike, there are a number of students who are not eating for two to seven days, students who signed up to full-time hunger strike with us after finding out about our cause, and many students who are fasting in solidarity by skipping any number of meals for various periods of time (for example, eating one meal a day until demands are met). In total, there are about 300 of us participating in strikes and fasting.

The strike is part of the Basic Needs Campaign, which is demanding that the University of Kentucky 1) establish and fund a physical Basic Needs Center, 2) establish a Basic Needs Fund, and 3) create a full-time Basic Needs staff position.

The roots of the campaign started in 2017, when UK faculty, staff and students launched the UK Food and Housing Access Survey. Over the course of two years, the researchers found that 43 percent of UK students are food insecure and 8 percent are housing insecure. The research was scientifically conducted with a sample of over 1,600 students (around 6 percent of UK’s student population). When high-level administrators heard these statistics, their immediate response was to cancel publication of the results, public presentations and press releases.

We all know friends who have dropped out of school because they couldn’t afford to live otherwise. A number of us know or are students who live paycheck to paycheck, only buying the cheapest food available and utilizing the limited resources UK provides. The problem is, there is no single resource for students to go to when we cannot pay for food and housing. There is no single office responsible. No office with food and housing security as its primary mission. We ask for systemic, institutional, long-term, and sustainable solutions.

We, the students of the Basic Needs Campaign, have been fighting this fight for basic needs ever since. We’ve tried academic research and student-run solutions like a meal swipe donation program, tried petitions, gained dozens of organizational endorsements, organized a letter-drop and then a phone zap to the Office of the President, held a powerful General Student Assembly, rallied with banners and posters, given out over 300 pounds of free food, met with administrators and more. We had two meetings with our President and our Provost — and on the second meeting they told us they would not meet with us again. We have been met with an incredible amount of resistance from the administration including the spread of misinformation of available resources to students and co-optation of student-run programs and our campaign.

So many students needs are not met because we are under attack from the profit-hungry predation of schools, higher ed and other institutions under capitalism. We have seen a wave of privatization hit universities, especially our public universities like the University of Kentucky. Our dining halls, dorms, campus security, surveillance and technology are being privatized. Universities continue to contract out previously in-house services to corporations that care about only one thing: profit.

Tuition has nearly doubled at most universities over the past ten years, with no end in sight. In addition to all this, wages are stagnant. University employees, faculty, staff, and graduate students are not compensated to match the rising cost of living.

We need your help to share our story and escalate the pressure on our administration. More information about how you can help the campaign can be found here.