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Controversial cookies feed debate over affirmative action

Cupcakes of all colors.
Cupcakes of all colors.
Charley Galley

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Protest an affirmative action bill…with brownies? College Republicans at UC Berkeley are taking heat for a stunt they're calling a “diversity bake sale.”

The students — who oppose a bill (SB185) on the governor’s desk that would let California’s public universities take race and gender into consideration in college admissions — are planning to sell baked goods on a sliding scale.

White students will pay the most for the sweet treats, $2, with Asian, Latino, black and American Indian students each paying less. Women of all races will also be given a discount on cookies and brownies.

According to Berkeley College Republicans' President Shawn Lewis, the bake sale "forces people to put themselves into one discrete category. They have to check a box next to an ethnicity or a race, and a lot of people are outraged by our event and our pricing structure because they say 'hey, I don't belong in any one of these groups, I'm actually part of three,' and we're saying 'yes, that's part of the point.'"

Student leaders on Berkeley's undergraduate council are condemning the bake sale.

"We really do believe that it's offensive and hurtful to many members of the community. If you look at the multi-tiered price structure of the pastries they're selling," student leader Joey Freeman said. "It really trivializes the struggle that many minorities students on this campus have gone through in their pursuit of higher education."

Beyond controversy over their tactics, the College Republicans intended to spur debate about whether affirmative action is a good idea for California's public universities. Governor Brown has until October 9 to sign or veto SB 185.

The bills author, state Senator Ed Hernandez of West Covina, says the measure does not only consider race and gender. Yet, he argues a lack of affirmative action has emphasized educational inequalities between students of different racial backgrounds.

"This needs to be a matter of fairness. We need to recognize that since Prop 209, we have seen a huge drop off in the number of eligible minority students admitted to our public universities in the state," Hernandez said. "I'll give you an example: the Latinos compromise about 45 percent of California's K through 12 population, yet they only compromise 13 percent of the UC students in the state of California."


Is this an acceptable form of protest? Affirmative action has been prohibited in the Cal State and UC systems since a Supreme Court decision in 1978. Is it time to bring it back? Or should Governor Brown veto the measure to award spots to top achieving students, regardless of their race or gender?


Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans

Joey Freeman, external affairs vice president, Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC)

Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), authored SB185, which would allow the University of California and California State University to consider race, ethnicity and gender in student admissions.