'Diversity Bake Sale' Stirs Up Controversy

The Berkeley College Republicans based prices of their baked goods on customers' race and gender. The Tuesday event was protesting proposed legislation that would allow race, gender and ethnicity to be considered in the admissions process across California public universities. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Berkeley College Republicans President Shawn Lewis and UC Berkeley student body President Vishalli Loomba.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: I'm Jacki Lyden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm sitting in today for Michel Martin.

In a moment, a new sound in Jewish liturgical music that blends jazz and Afro beats. We'll speak with the folks behind the band, Afro-Semitic Experience, in a bit.

But first, a less harmonious diversity experience. A Republican student group at the University of California, Berkeley, hosted the Increase Diversity Bake Sale yesterday, but it stirred up more anger than anything by setting different prices for baked goods, based on the customer's race and gender.

The advertised prices for cookies and cupcakes were $2 for white customers, $1.50 for Asian, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for blacks and 25 cents for Native American customers. All women got an additional 25 cent discount.

It was the Berkeley College Republicans' way of protesting legislation that would allow California Public Universities to consider race in student admissions. And while some critics called the tactic racist, the Republican student's counter the same could be said about the admission policies.

Here to talk with us about the controversial bake sale, are Shawn Lewis, President of the Berkeley College Republicans; and Vishalli Loomba, President of the University of California Berkeley Student Body.

Welcome to you both.

SHAWN LEWIS: Thanks for inviting us.

VISHALLI LOOMBA: Thanks. I'm glad to be here.

LYDEN: Shawn Lewis, why this approach and how did you come to the price structure of different monetary amounts for each ethnic group?

LEWIS: Well, the subject and the debate of race in politics in America is undoubtedly a controversial issue. So, to face that controversial issue with a controversial event, doesn't seem all that extreme.

Now, this pricing structure specifically got a lot of the outrage and that was the main point of our message, was that treating people differently or discriminatorily, based on race or color of their skin, is inherently wrong. And so we really wanted to create emotional response and dialog because of that pricing structure. And I think we did accomplish that.

LYDEN: I'm curious - how much money you've made.

LEWIS: We brought in - this really surprised me. We brought in almost $800. I'm not sure how, on a bake sale that was being called racist and discriminatory in the middle of Berkeley when you could name your own price. And we actually sold out. Sold over 300 cupcakes, about 200 cookies, brought in almost $800, which will go to a charity. We're speaking to a few charities right now that we have relationships with, but at this moment, we don't want to disclose if that's going to be controversial and make them look bad for receiving that money. So at this point, we're still figuring out where to send that.

LYDEN: Vishalli Loomba, the school's chancellor sent an open letter condemning the bake sale, calling for respectful debate and there were even threats of physical violence leading up to yesterday's sale. Things got heated.

Tell us, what was student reaction like as far as you're concerned?

LOOMBA: I've heard a lot from students, from the very beginning, when the group was first publicized last week, that students were very uncomfortable at the event and felt extremely offended, and felt unwelcome and unwanted on campus. And it created a very divisive and uncomfortable environment.

And so, for that reason, the student government went ahead and called a special meeting and actually did the same thing, and discussed student group conduct and how student groups should be able to express their opinions, -which I completely value BCR's opinion on SB 185 and them wanting to vocalize how they feel about it and that's perfectly valid. But I think that there are much more constructive methods in which to do so that aren't so offensive and don't upset the campus environment and campus community.

LYDEN: I understand there were some competing bake stands.

LOOMBA: Yeah, there were. It was incredible to see a huge counter-protest. Many students - hundreds of students from different student communities all across campus came together and actually did a silent protest and laid out all across (unintelligible). And I think it was very effective and it was absolutely incredible to see students from all over come together and stand up against something that they found so offensive.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden and I'm speaking with Shawn Lewis, President of University of California at Berkeley's College Republicans, about the group's bake sale to protest diversity initiatives in campus admissions.

And also with us is Vishalli Loomba, student body president at U Cal Berkeley.

So Shawn, what are your thoughts now that this over about how things went and whether it was constructive?

LEWIS: Well, first off, about campus climate, you know, I see the ASUC - which is the Associated Students of the University of California, which is our student government, and Vishalli's position here is an important, you know, mitigator in terms of making sure there's a comfortable campus climate. And I see that as a very difficult position that they have to take and so I respect everything that the ASUC has done.

However, when we talk about campus climate, when the ASUC, the student body senate, came out with a bill condemning any event that made any group feel uncomfortable or any event, whether satirical or not, the language of the bill to condemn this kind of activity was pretty specifically targeted at the event we held, the bake sale.

And very little conversation has been made about the actual response that we got on the Facebook page, the threats that were made to members of our group, the intimidation that was made specifically and also implicitly.

Now, individually, members have come out from the student body, from the student school administration, and condemned any of these threats and I understand that. But it seems that the direction of the debate on campus has been about how this event has created a possibly uncomfortable climate for certain groups.

But, really, we haven't talked much about the response that the Berkeley College Republicans have gotten for standing up for their views. So campus climate's important, but I think we need to admit and look at both sides of this issue in that there were definitely threats going toward the people supporting this bake sale.

LYDEN: The Senate Bill 185, which was presented to California Governor Brown earlier this month, will become law unless he vetoes it. It's interesting because California voters had banned the use of race and gender preferences in state university admissions and hiring.

Vishalli, why do you think it's reemerged? Do you think it's important?

LOOMBA: Definitely. SB 185 isn't affirmative action and it doesn't give applicants preferential treatment in application, it just adds to the holistic process. And it actually is in line with the current legislative intent from the state of California that directs the UC system and the CSU system to enroll a student population that is reflective of the current population of California, in terms of our cultural and ethnic and racial diversity.

LYDEN: Do you think that the university, when it comes to admissions, can provide an atmosphere that is supportive and clear without that legislation?

LOOMBA: I think that this extremely helps the process. It helps create a more holistic application and adds to it, in order to give admissions - officers in the admissions office - a better view and a better picture of each applicant.

LYDEN: Vishalli Loomba is student body president at U Cal Berkeley and Shawn Lewis is president of the Berkeley College Republicans there and they joined us from Berkeley.

Thank you both very much for your time today.

LEWIS: Thank you.

LOOMBA: Thank you.

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