BERKELEY, Calif (Reuters) - Student Republicans holding a bake sale at UC Berkeley to mock diversity efforts by state legislators were met on Tuesday by about 200 silent, black-clad protesters but little in the way of acrimony.
Plans by the Berkeley College Republicans to sell baked goods priced according to race and gender had touched a nerve at the University of California at Berkeley -- where the chancellor denounced the event as contrary to campus “Principles of Community.”
But the bake sale proceeded in a largely calm fashion, with about 15 to 20 student Republicans selling pastries behind a folding table and occasionally engaging in spirited debate with counter-protesters over affirmative action, equal opportunity and diversity.
Shortly before noon, about 200 students with a group called The Coalition marched into the square in two columns, dressed in black, and proceeded to lie silently on the ground.
After an hour the group stood up and chanted “We have nothing to lose but chains” and “It is our duty to defend freedom” before leaving.
Others protesting the sale offered free baked goods of their own and held signs.
Andy Nevis, executive director of the Berkeley College Republicans, said he was surprised by the media attention given to the bake sale, which he called similar to events held at other college campuses over the past decade or so.
He attributed much of the media excitement to a resolution by Berkeley’s student government supporting SB 185, a bill passed by the California legislature that would allow the state’s public universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin of admissions applicants.
‘THEY JUST DON‘T GET IT’
“It was inappropriate for them to claim they were representative of the entire student body when they passed a resolution on support of SB 185,” Nevis said. “Had they not done that we wouldn’t be here today.”
The bill next goes to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for signature or veto, and becomes law if he takes no action by October 9. Brown has not announced his position on SB 185.
A folding table set up by the student Republicans selling the baked goods was surrounded by news crews as a few students walked up and purchased them, some expressing support.
“I think what you guys are doing is hilarious. I think most people here they just don’t get it,” student John Parsley told the student cashier after purchasing a white cupcake.
Nearby, two Berkeley students, both women belonging to a group called Conscious Cupcakes, offered free baked goods of their own and said they wanted to support those “hurt by the tactics” of the student Republicans.
“We made 250 (cupcakes) last night and we’ve got 200 left. Business is good,” Nicole Fisher said early on.
Other students walked through the crowd handing out free pastries and hawking petitions to overturn California’s Proposition 209, a ballot measure approved by voters in 1996 that prohibits the state from granting preferential treatment to students based on race, sex, ethnicity of national origin.
While enactment of SB 185 does not require university admissions officers to give preferential treatment to applicants on the basis of race or gender, it would allow them to consider such factors.
Apparently unaware of the furor in advance, the Asian American Association had also set up a student bake sale. Vi Tran, who was staffing the table, said business was poor.
“I‘m actually proud of Berkeley for allowing the College Republicans to go ahead with their bake sale,” Tran said, adding that she was opposed to SB 185.
“The term minority and lack of resources should not be tied together, it should be based on merit,” she said.
Meanwhile two male students in capes appeared with a six-foot-long blow-up dragon, carrying a sign that read: “Increase Hogwarts Diversity” -- a reference to the fictional school of wizardry and witchcraft featured in the Harry Potter book series.
Additional reporting by Maura Mooney and Steve Gorman; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton