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California

Diversity satire is a little too biting

A UC Berkeley student group is stirring support and outrage nationwide over its planned bake sale Tuesday that is pricing items according to a buyer’s race, ethnicity and gender.

The satirical event — titled the Increase Diversity Bake Sale — is a reprise of similar cookie sales held on college campuses by Republican clubs over the years. It was scheduled to counter another student-led effort urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill to allow California’s public universities to consider race, ethnicity and gender in student admissions as long as no preference is given.

Leaders with the Berkeley College Republicans said their intent was to highlight the impropriety of basing decisions on race or gender. The sale, according to a posting on Facebook, will offer five pricing levels, with pastries described as “White/Caucasian” going for $2, “Asian/American American” for $1.50, “Latino/Hispanic” for $1, “Black/African American” for 75 cents, and “Native American” for a quarter. A 25-cent discount will be offered to women.

“If you don’t come, you’re a racist,” said an announcement late last week publicizing the event.

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The response was swift.

“It blew up on Facebook and social media, with students of color and [their] allies,” said Joey Freeman, an officer with the Associated Students of the University of California, which supports the admissions legislation. “We were really taken aback and, frankly, disgusted,” he said.

That organization’s Senate unanimously approved a resolution Sunday condemning “the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group.”

And Alfredo Mireles Jr., a UC San Francisco nursing student who is a member of UC’s Board of Regents, issued a statement criticizing the sale as “a common stunt performed by college Republican groups to protest affirmative action policies.” Indeed, student clubs at UCLA, Berkeley and elsewhere hosted similar events in 2003 — provoking similar protests and allegations that the organizers were racist.

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“Not only is it offensive, but it’s unoriginal,” said Mireles, who warned that an overreaction to the tactic could distract from the more important policy discussion. “If they are trying to get media attention, they’ve been incredibly successful,” he said.

By Monday, in fact, the event’s defenders were making their opinions widely known. The Facebook page promoting the sale was trending largely in favor of the stunt, with comments from across the country.

“You guys totally rock,” posted Dale Brown. “Once again the leftist media have completely missed the point of your protest, which is why they are calling you bigots and the protest racist.”

CampusReform.org, which supports conservative activists on campuses across the country, also weighed in, musing that media that are critical of the event actually may be “playing into the hands of these College Republicans.”

“After all, the point of the event is to show how racist and sexist affirmative action is,” a CampusReform.org organizer wrote. “If the people are so offended about the race- and gender-based pricing, shouldn’t they also be offended when the Legislature does essentially the same thing for college admissions?”

At the heart of the controversy is SB 185, which the student Senate unanimously endorsed earlier this month. Authored by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), the bill would allow the UC and Cal State systems to consider — but not give preference to — applicants’ race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, geographic origin and household income — along with other relevant factors.

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 209, which forbids using ethnicity as an element of college admissions decisions. In a legal brief filed recently in support of a federal lawsuit seeking to deem the initiative unconstitutional, Brown cited a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found race could be considered in admissions if it did not involve quotas or predetermined weight in decisions.

Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, has insisted that the bake sale will go on as planned in Sproul Plaza — not far from the Associated Students’ phone bank in support of the bill.

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In a statement on his group’s website, Lewis said: “What I have seen and heard … has been far from healthy disagreement or challenging of ideas. Instead, I have witnessed the harassment of the creators of the Facebook event, threats to those who plan on participating in the event, and a total mischaracterization of the purpose of the bake sale.”

Associated Students President Vishalli Loomba said that while debate over the merits of the legislation was welcome, “I think their tactics are inappropriate. There are a lot of other methods. This method makes students feel uncomfortable and unwelcome on campus.”

A Berkeley vice chancellor said the bake sale violated no rules and would be allowed to proceed, with some students planning to hand out “cupcakes of conscience” in counter-protest.

A spokesman for UC President Mark Yudof, who last year created an advisory council in response to campus incidents that proved offensive or intimidating to minority students, said Monday that Berkeley was handling the dust-up “just the way we’d like it to be handled. They listened and turned it into a teaching moment.”

Even Freeman said the dialogue was productive. “They certainly made a statement and they got people talking, so at least in that way their mission was accomplished.”

lee.romney@latimes.com

larry.gordon@latimes.com


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