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Hundreds protest 'diversity bake sale' at UC Berkeley

September 27, 2011 |  1:47 pm

Students protest a  "diversity bake sale" at UC Berkeley.
Hundreds of students packed UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Tuesday to express their views on the use of race and gender in university admissions decisions and to weigh in on the tone of debate.

The dialogue in the bastion of the free-speech movement was triggered by a bake sale -- sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans -- that promised goods priced according to the buyer's race, ethnicity and gender.

The event, which was met with anger by many students, was timed to counteract a phone bank in support of a bill on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk that would allow the UC and Cal State University systems to consider such factors, as long as no preference is given.

Opponents of the legislation formed a protective wall of sorts around the Republican student club's bake sale table in the plaza. Under the event's pricing structure, whites were supposed to pay $2 for the same pastry that would cost Native Americans just 25 cents. (The group, however, accepted whatever people chose to pay.)

"It's kind of ugly," said 21-year-old gender and women's studies major Tatianna Peck, who held a sign protesting the exclusion of "queer people" from the Republicans' pricing structure.

"It's extremely reductive and forcing people into a defensive position instead of an honest place of listening," she said of the bake sale stunt. "It's just kind of a shame."

Some protesters gave out cupcakes in hopes of creating "an environment where people can come have dialogue with respect and sensitivity," said Damaris Olaechea, 24. The anthropology and rhetoric major said she, along with her roommate, baked hundreds of "cupcakes of conscience" to hand out in that spirit.

Several hundred students -- many of them African American or Latino -- dressed in black and staged a silent protest, lying down for an hour in the midday sun.

"UC Us Now," their signs read, in a play on words to remind the campus of their presence.

The announcement of the bake sale last week and reaction to it prompted a wider discussion about racism and equality, and on Tuesday, even critics of the stunt said they saw positive dialogue.

"Everybody's having conversations with the Republicans. It's totally a civilized event," said Levon Minassian, 21, a political science major whose co-op made baked goods to give out in protest.

Minassian and others said they hoped the discussion would trigger a broad stance by all students to fight tuition hikes.

"That affects all of us," said Minassian, adding that no cohesive protests have emerged on that matter. "It's amazing how race is such a mobilizing issue," he said.

Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said the sale was getting news coverage as far as Russia and Australia and bringing attention to an important policy issue. "This has created the dialogue we wanted" he said.

"Berkeley is the home of the free-speech movement. We want to be sure it doesn't become the capital of political correctness."

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-- Lee Romney in Berkeley

Photo: Students protest a "diversity bake sale" at UC Berkeley. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

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