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Unresolved issue between faculty and administration leads student to hunger strike

By Dulce Arroyo
On April 20, 2011


Like many students at Northeastern Illinois University, Daniel McCracken cannot understand why negotiations for a fair contract between administrators and UPI members are still being debated after nearly three years. However, unlike most sign-wielding protesters, McCracken decided to take his activism a step further by going on a hunger strike.

Seeing his professors distraught about the issue and hearing about constant student and faculty protests, McCracken—a new student who enrolled at NEIU after completing service in the Air Force—was determined to find a more direct approach in speeding up the closure to the ongoing negotiations.

"The problem between the administration and teachers directly affects me as a student—how I study, my wants and needs, and my mental well-being," he said. "I realized that what's happening right now is insanity, and that our teachers and administrators do the same thing over and over and get the same results. This needs to be resolved, and it needs to be resolved quickly; it's affecting our student body in a very negative way."

However, he does not want to be seen as taking sides, and instead wishes to represent the student body.

"The teachers aren't the only ones at the short end of the stick; the students are as well," said McCracken. "The administration is trying to spend nearly $250,000 on a new lounge, but not a lot of people know that kind of stuff, and it's scary—this is our money. No one asked us if we wanted a new café; nobody tells us our tuition is going up. We have the right to learn this kind of information, and it's time to let it be known."

McCracken will begin his hunger strike on Monday, April 18, and will not end it until an agreement can be made between UPI members and administrators. He will arrive at school every morning at 8am and stay until 8pm, without consuming anything except water; instead of going to class, he will sit outside in front of the Serenity sculpture, staying as calm and inactive as possible, and willing to talk to anyone who wants to hear his cause. Although McCracken will not ask anyone to join him in his hunger strike, he is hopeful that this could possibly influence a group of students to show their feelings about the issue, understand their choices, and voice their opinions.

After asking SGA Vice Presidential candidate Danait Araia what would be the best way to mobilize his hunger strike during the VP debate held earlier last week, she informed him of the Student Senate meeting that was occurring. During the meeting, which included a UPI representative, a Board of Trustees representative, President Hahs and members of the administration, McCracken was able to introduce himself and inform both parties of his decision to go on a hunger strike.

McCracken also told his teachers and classmates, who surprised him when they acted optimistic about his endeavor.

"I made a formal announcement and everyone looked shocked, but not disbelieving," he said, "which was refreshing because I thought people would say, ‘Here goes another extremist looking for attention'. But I got an enormous amount of positive feedback and handshakes from teachers."

The idea of a hunger strike was suggested to McCracken by his roommate, who referenced Gandhi's role in social activism and how it could work in finding a solution to the issue.

"I dug deep within myself and asked, ‘Is this is my calling? Is this something I want to do and truly believe in'," he said. "And the answer is yes, I can make a difference. I can unite an entire student body and show them that through unity we can accomplish anything. The root of the issue is money— just one change in the payroll could solve it through careful regulation and legislation."

This form of peaceful protesting is something new to McCracken, who was once stationed in Iraq as a mercenary for the U.S. Air Force.

"I was a hired gun and I did whatever was needed, whatever I was told to do," he said. "I used to fight my battles with violence, but with this type of social activism I realized that things can get accomplished without violence."

McCracken is aware of the physical implications that could potentially arise, but even so, he is determined to go through with the hunger strike.

"There are demons inside that are telling me ‘You don't need to do this, it's not your problem,' but that's just me conforming to fear," he said. "The fear of the pain now is a little bit overwhelming, but the cause is what's helping me fight that. I don't want to let the student body down—that's my biggest fear."

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