Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Affirmative Action Bake Sale at UC Berkeley

In just the past week, the various campuses of the University of California have provided an interesting window into the nature of college student activism in 2011. On one hand, Thursday night saw Berkeley's Tolman Hall occupied by hundreds of students protesting its closure due to budget cuts that prevented it from being retrofitted to meet seismic standards. The protesters attacked the police who arrived to close the building, throwing chunks of concrete at them and hitting them; in the end, two students were arrested. Today, of course, the protesters are demanding an apology from the cops. On the other hand, yesterday saw ten students charged and convicted in an Orange County courthouse for the "crime" of non-violent protest at an appearance of Israel's ambassador at the Irvine campus. Based on these incidents, one might be tempted to conclude that violence is permissible if carried out in the service of the university's (and the government's) interests, while Constitutionally protected freedoms can be made illegal if they anger the wrong people. If this is the case, God help the Berkeley College Republicans.

The Berkeley community is apparently abuzz over a Facebook post by the conservative student group. Few Californians are aware that a bill now on Jerry Brown's desk, SB 185, would punch a hole in the 15-year-old Prop 209 by allowing the UC and Cal State systems to reinstate affirmative action into their admissions policies. In order to draw awareness to the issue, the College Republicans announced a bake sale next Tuesday on Sproul Plaza. Prices for the pastries on sale will vary depending on the customer's race: $2 for white students, $1.50 for those of Asian descent, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for black students, and 25 cents for American Indians, with a 25-cent discount for women. To be fair, the UC has had its share of black eyes on racial issues in the past year. In 2010, UC San Diego students posted racial slurs on Facebook and on campus TV; a noose was even found hanging from a light fixture in one of its libraries. Last March, a UCLA student posted an anti-Asian rant on YouTube. Swastikas were carved into walls and doors at UC Davis, and a YouTube video mocked the Chicano studies program at UC Merced. So it's fair to say that the Berkeley "bake sale" is in very poor taste. But the response the Facebook announcement drew from opponents was far uglier than anything said by the conservative students. Many threatened the College Republicans with attack at the event.

As we've said before, affirmative action is a good example of why we find politics so detestable. It's never made sense to us to try to right past instances of racial discrimination with . . . more racial discrimation, but that seems to be the principle at work. Yet the more worrying thing about this story is the UC's apparent willingness to suppress the less popular side of an honest discussion of a political issue. The College Republicans might not be saying things that the university likes to hear, but they seem to be the only party in this that doesn't want to violate the rights of anyone else.


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