A ‘Diversity Bake Sale’ Backfires on Campus
By MALIA WOLLAN
BERKELEY, Calif. — A bake sale sponsored by a Republican student group at the University of California, Berkeley, has incited anger and renewed the debate over affirmative action by asking students to pay different prices for pastry, depending on their race and sex.
Times Topic: Affirmative Action
Last week, the Berkeley College Republicans announced its “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” scheduled for Tuesday. On Facebook, the group listed the price for a pastry at $2 for white students, $1.50 for Asian students, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for African-Americans and 25 cents for Native Americans. Women of all races were promised a 25-cent discount.
“Hope to see you all there! If you don’t come, you’re a racist!” the Facebook event page said. (It has since been taken down and replaced with milder text.)
“We expected people to be upset,” the group’s president, Shawn Lewis, 20, a third-year political science major, said Monday in a telephone interview. “Treating people differently based on the color of their skin is wrong, and we wanted people to be upset about that.”
The bake sale was scheduled to protest a phone bank organized by the Associated Students of the University of California, the campus student government group, where students planned to call Gov. Jerry Brown and urge him to sign a Senate bill that would allow public universities to consider race, gender and ethnicity in admissions decisions. In 1996, voters in the state passed a ballot initiative, known as Proposition 209, prohibiting affirmative action in admissions.
“The bake sale is a misguided attempt by the Berkeley College Republicans to make a political point about their opposition to a particular bill,” said Gibor Basri, the university’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion and a professor of astronomy. “A lot of students, especially students of color, read it as placing a higher value on white students.”
In response to the bake sale, the Associated Students, which provides money to the Berkeley College Republicans and other political groups for events on campus, called an emergency meeting on Sunday, leaders said. It passed a resolution condemning discriminatory events on campus whether or not they are meant to be satirical.
Not long after the bake sale page went up on Facebook, hundreds of people posted comments expressing outrage over or support for the sale and affirmative action in general.
“Perhaps you should be charging women and Latinas double to better reflect the fact that we’re being paid 78 cents and 59 cents to the white man’s dollar,” wrote Ally Wong.
Others worried more about the pastries. “The educational value of this exercise will be lost when Pocahontas walks away with a truckload of free cupcakes,” wrote Mike Creamer.
The bake sale idea is not original, said Mr. Lewis, the Republican group’s president, noting that the same tactic had been used on other college campuses in the last decade to protest affirmative action.
Event organizers received numerous threats on Facebook, and some of the group’s members changed their names and profile pictures. “This event was not organized by a bunch of white guys,” Mr. Lewis said. “We’re not racists.” The group’s 10-member board of directors includes several Asians and a Latino, he said, and more than half the board members are women.
Student leaders worried that the bake sale would make students uncomfortable and aggravate tensions on campus.
“A number of students have come to me very concerned,” said the student body president, Vishalli Loomba, 20, a fourth-year molecular and cell biology major. “Many feel the differential pricing is offensive and that it makes them feel unwelcome.”
Despite the outcry, organizers said the sale would go forward unless they were threatened with physical violence. Mr. Lewis said Republican groups from nearby colleges — including the University of California, Davis; California State University, Sacramento; and Saint Mary’s College of California — had called to say they were sending carloads of supporters to the bake sale.
The race-based prices will be posted on signs, but organizers said they would not enforce them and would instead allow students to pay whatever they wanted.
One group of students decided to protest pastries with more pastries.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 600 people had R.S.V.P.’d on Facebook to attend the “Conscious Cupcakes Giveaway,” scheduled for the same time and place as the Berkeley College Republicans’ bake sale and the student government’s phone bank.
“Join us in celebrating and representing U.C. Berkeley’s diverse community!” read the event announcement. “We recognize we still have a long way to go in bridging the gaps in understanding the complexities of race, gender and sexuality, but we take the first steps by taking our first bite of free Conscious Cupcakes in solidarity!”
One Berkeley student wrote on the event’s page: “conscious cupcakes > discriminatory cupcakes.”
Reprinted from the New York Times, Education, of Tuesday, September 27, 2011.