BERKELEY, Calif. â€” Hundreds of students packed the University of California, Berkeleyâ€™s Sproul Plaza on Tuesday to express their views on the use of race and gender in university admissions decisions, â€“â€“ and to weigh in on the tone of the debate.
The dialogue in this bastion of the free-speech movement was triggered by a bake sale, sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans, that promised goods priced according to the buyerâ€™s race, ethnicity and gender.
The event, met with anger by many students, was timed to counteract a phone bank in support of a bill on California Gov. Jerry Brownâ€™s desk that would allow the University of California and California State University systems to consider such factors, as long as no preference was given.
Proposition 209, passed by state voters in 1996, banned affirmative action in public university admissions. The current bill would not violate that ban. Instead it would permit schools to consider things such as ethnicity, much as they do extracurricular activities, when weighing candidates.
Under the bake saleâ€™s satirical pricing structure, whites were supposed to pay $2 for the same pastry that would cost American Indians just 25 cents. (The Republican club, however, accepted whatever people chose to pay.) Supporters formed a protective barrier around the groupâ€™s table on Tuesday; Prop 209 author and former UC Regent Wade Connerly, who is black, showed up to help the students sell frosted cupcakes.
Republican campus clubs have held such sales over the years to challenge racial preference policies. But this time social media spread the news worldwide, prompting outrage and praise for organizers. The event spawned a secondary debate about civility and respect.
â€œItâ€™s kind of ugly,â€ said 21-year-old gender and womenâ€™s studies major Tatianna Peck, who held a sign in mock protest of the exclusion of â€œqueer peopleâ€ from the pricing structure. â€œItâ€™s â€¦ forcing people into a defensive position instead of an honest place of listening.â€
On Sunday, the Associated Students of the University of Californiaâ€™s senate passed a resolution condemning â€œthe use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness.â€ In a message Monday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and two vice chancellors endorsed that position and said that the strong reactions to the bake sale provided â€œa vivid lesson that issues of race, ethnicity, and gender are far from resolved.â€
Anthropology major Damaris Olaechea, 24, and her roommate did their part Tuesday to create â€œan environment where people can come have dialogue with respect and sensitivity,â€ giving out hundreds of pink home-baked â€œconscious cupcakes.â€