By Jeff Calareso
On September 27th, the College Republicans at the University of California Berkeley held a controversial fundraiser. The event, known as the 'Increase Diversity Bake Sale,' featured prices that varied based on the customer's race. While white students paid $2, Asian students paid $1.50, Latino students paid $1 and African American student paid $0.75. Women were given a $0.25 discount, regardless of race.
The bake sale was intended to mock SB 185, a bill that would reintroduce race and ethnicity as a factor in university admissions. As the Republican group described it, the race-based pricing structure symbolized the inherent unfairness of any type of racial division. The event was admittedly a publicity stunt by students looking to express their displeasure with any form of affirmative action.
Inside The Bill That Sparked The Sale
SB 185 would permit the University of California and California State University institutions to use race, ethnicity, gender and national origin when making admissions decisions. The bill, which is awaiting a decision by October 9th from California Governor Jerry Brown, wouldn't allow schools to admit students based solely on race, but it would allow schools to use race alongside other factors, including grades and extracurricular activities. The goal of the bill is to provide equal access to higher education to groups that have been systemically discriminated against.
SB 185 would reverse parts of Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative passed by Californians in 1996. Proposition 209 was an amendment to the state constitution that barred public institutions from considering race, gender or ethnicity. The law had a calamitous effect on the diversity of the student body at California universities. Enrollment of students of color fell precipitously at many schools, including a 50% drop in African American students at UC Berkeley from 1997 to 1998.
Vitriol Over Cupcakes
While the College Republicans in Berkeley sought to poke fun at using race as a factor in college admissions, many of their peers weren't amused. Well before the bake sale, a huge outcry garnered national attention. There were impassioned protests and threats of violence. Opponents of the sale argued that the Republicans were trivializing a legacy of oppression and discrimination in as flippant and offensive a manner as possible.
The actual sale went off without violence, but the crowd was animated. The Republicans were joined by former UC Regent Ward Connerly, the controversial anti-affirmative action activist who led the Proposition 209 campaign. Connerly, who argued with protestors, sat beside student Republicans as they shied away from enforcing their price structure, instead allowing students to pay whatever they chose. More peacefully, Berkeley's student government organized a phone bank just feet from the bake sale, in which students could call the governor's office and voice support for SB 185.
Improving diversity in higher education is no easy task, as Amherst College discovered recently.