Sept. 27, 2011— -- A controversial bake sale sparked tense protests and counter-protests today over racism, diversity, and affirmative action at the University of California, Berkeley.
Hundreds of students gathered on the school's Sproul Plaza to voice their opinion on whether the state's public universities should allow affirmative action, and the dispute was centered around a bake sale.
College Republicans planned a "satirical" bake sale at which the price of items would be determined by the buyer's race, gender, and ethnicity. The bake sale was met with outrage on the campus as student groups claimed racism and a return to Jim Crow laws.
A protest organized by the black student union drew the largest number of participants, as members dressed completely in black and walked silently across the plaza and then lay down on the ground for two hours. The group held signs with phrases like "Can UC Us Now?"
"It was kind of tense," said Maura Mooney, 18, a freshman at the school. "The Republicans were all silent and pretty angry. They didn't say anything, and people were challenging them to debates and asking them questions and they weren't very vocal."
Mooney said that other attendees brought bull horns and shouted chants at the Republicans, including "New Jim Crow, we say hell no." But the Republicans merely handed out fliers in response.
According to Republican organizers, the bake sale was meant to be "satirical," where baked goods would cost $2 for white people, $1.50 for Asians, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for African Americans and 25 cents for Native Americans. Women would get a 25 cents discount from all of those prices. The group, however, did not enforce their price structure during the protest, and sold out of baked goods by early afternoon.
Club members said the sale is a way of taking a stand against pending legislation that would let the University of California consider a student's race or national origin during the admissions process.
"It certainly is stirring emotions, and that's what we want," Lewis said. "But we certainly don't want people to think we are making fun of racial issues or laughing at them, because that's not the message of the bake sale."
Yvette Felarca, a graduate of Berkeley who helped organize a counter-protest with the By Any Means Necessary educational advocay group, said that she thought her side had won the day's debate.
"Ultimately I think they know they are a real minority on this campus, with their political sentiment of open racism, and with the hundreds of students coming in and out all day today to counter demonstrate," said Felarca, who graduated in 2005. Felarca noted that when she graduated from the school of education, there were no black students in her graduating class.
In response to the planned event, Associated Students of the University of California approved a resolution that "condemns the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group."
UC Berkeley's Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri, and Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande sent out a campus-wide letter early today condemning the bake sale and endorsing the ASUC resolution.
Berkeley Bake Sale Gets Sticky
"The administration firmly endorses [the ASUC] sentiments. It is our sincere hope that the strong reactions generated by the proposed bake sale provide a vivid lesson that issues of race, ethnicity, and gender are far from resolved, and very much a part of lived experience here and now," the letter said.
The letter also said that the "event has moved the campus community into dialogue, because it was hurtful or offensive to many of its members."