Admissions & Student Aid

Controversial Bake Sale at Berkeley Stirs Debate Over Affirmative Action

September 27, 2011

A controversial bake sale at the University of California at Berkeley on Tuesday that was designed to satirize affirmative action drew allegations of racism and a wave of media attention.

The sale, by the Berkeley College Republicans, charged customers different prices for cupcakes and cookies based on race and gender. White males paid $2, black men paid 75 cents, and Native American men paid 25 cents. Women got 25 cents off. The group sold 300 cupcakes.

"There were some aggressive people who came up with angry things to say, but there was no violence," Shawn Lewis, president of the Republican student group, told CNN.

The sale resembled events that have taken place or have been blocked at other campuses across the country. But the Berkeley event captured national media attention, in part because it was timed to protest recent California legislation that, if signed into law by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., would allow state universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin in their admissions decisions.

Opponents of the bill, SB 185, say it would violate Proposition 209, an amendment to the California Constitution that bans the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies. But supporters say the bill does not call for preferential treatment and is not unconstitutional.

As the Berkeley Republican group's bake sale was under way on Tuesday, other students held counterdemonstrations urging Governor Brown, a Democrat, to sign the bill. The student government set up a phone bank where students could call the governor's office to express their support for the bill.

The bake sale was denounced by many as racist soon after it was advertised. One student told CNN she was "appalled" not only by the different prices, but also by the implied ranking of races. "It trivializes the struggles that people have been through and their histories," she said.

In a written response to such complaints, Mr. Lewis, the group's president, agreed that the event was inherently racist, but he said that was the point. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race or gender," he wrote.

The university is not taking an official position on the bill, Steve Montiel, a spokesman for the system's Office of the President, told The Daily Californian. "We support its underlying goal and would welcome additional tools to achieve a more diverse student body," he said, "but we are neutral."