BERKELEY, Calif. – Students at a California university used cookies instead of protest signs on Wednesday to demonstrate against college affirmative action policies.
A conservative group at the University of California held a bake sale with sweets priced according to the buyer's race or ethnicity. Whites paid more for their cookies than did Latinos, American Indians and other minorities.
But only about 30 cookies, bought in bulk from a big-box store, were sold.
"We weren't expecting to find 100 people coming out and agreeing with us," said Kelly Coyne, a member of Berkeley College Republicans, the group holding the sale. "What we wanted to do is to really inject this issue of debate on the campus and it has. People are talking about affirmative action."
For the same chocolate chip cookie, whites were being charged $1.50, Asians $1.25, Latinos (Hispanics not from Mexico) $1.00, Chicanos (Hispanics from Mexico) 75 cents, American Indians 50 cents, and blacks 25 cents.
Berkeley and the entire UC campus network stopped considering race and gender in 1997. Enrollment of blacks and Hispanics dropped sharply after that move but have increased in recent years, although that trend can be seen less so at the top campuses of Berkeley and UCLA.
UC recently switched to a system known as comprehensive review admissions, which takes into account factors such as hardship or poverty but not race.
UC students at the Berkeley campus had mixed feelings about the College Republicans' political bake sale.
Sal Daxamusan paid 25 cents for his cookie. His parents are Indian, but his grandmother was from Ethiopia. The college junior said the sale pointed out absurdities in the system.
"I think the goal of affirmative action is a noble one," Daxamusan said. But "I think it's the wrong way to do it."
Junior Mike Richardson, who is originally from Somalia, seemed a bit put off by the sales pitch — "Twenty-five cents — it's a real deal" — and thought the sale trivialized serious issues and didn't offer viable alternatives.
"This might not be the best system, but it's the only system we have right now," he said.
The race card wasn't the only one played at Wednesday's sale.
Some students passing by the sale wanted to know why there was no price set for "legacy admits," the legal practice of giving preference to students whose parents went to UC.
Dave Galich, president of Berkeley College Republicans, responded by saying they were only dealing with one politically-charged issue at a time.
Race-based bake sales have been held by conservative students around the country, including UCLA, the University of Richmond and the University of Michigan, which is embroiled in a Supreme Court battle over its own affirmative action policies.
Conservative students at UC Los Angeles held a bake sale Feb. 3. Bake sale vendors were assigned the names of "Uncle Tom," "The White Oppressor" and "Self-Hating Hispanic Race Traitor." Another student was assigned the position of "Admissions Officer" and given the responsibility of assigning the cost of the baked goods by determining the buyer’s race and gender.
"Unfortunately, this activity is consistent with the Republican right’s tactics to engage in race based political discourse," California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said, citing recent controversies around comments made by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C. "It is a shame Republican students at UCLA have chosen to mimic the extreme views of their Republican leaders."
President of the Democratic Law Students Association, Juan Carlos-Orellana said "this event serves only to show that ignorance persists and that all political leaders must continue to work for equal opportunities for all Americans."
The Democratic Party has largely supported affirmative action policies due to its voter base.
"Once again we see hard-working students of color subjected to racist Republican rhetoric for simply seeking a good education and equal opportunity," Torres said in blasting the sales.
On the other side of the issue, UC Regent Ward Connerly laughed when he hard about the Berkeley sale.
Conner led the fight to drop race in admissions at UC and also chaired the campaign for a 1996 ballot measure dismantling most public affirmative action programs in California.
"I think that it highlights the absurdity of preferences on the basis of race or gender or ethnicity," he said. "I commend them for piercing through the clutter and getting to the heart of what is really wrong with preferences."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.