It’s “déjà vu all over again,” this time at Northeastern Illinois University, where administrators have threatened to punish the College Republicans if they hold an “affirmative action bake sale” satirical protest. (At these “bake sale” protests, students sell baked goods for lower prices to women and minorities to make a point about what they see as the unfair discrimination inherent in affirmative action policies.) Last year, FIRE defended students in similar situations at the University of California-Irvine, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the College of William and Mary who, after FIRE’s intervention, were able to freely protest.
The suppression of this type of protest of affirmative action at NEIU is particularly galling, however, considering that the university’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance student group has in fact held a similar “pay equity” bake sale to protest the income gap between men and women. (FIRE has never heard any reports of a pay equity bake sale being prohibited by a university—if you know of any recent instances, please write us.) The fact is that both protests must be allowed on a public university campus like that of NEIU. The argument most commonly used by universities to attack these protests is that selling baked goods for different prices based on sex, race, etc., is illegal discrimination. But these students aren’t setting up a Jim Crow Krispy Kreme—they’re engaging in a day-long political protest that uses discrimination in cookie pricing to protest race preferences in admissions. And from the amount of debate that these protests stir up, it looks like they’re pretty effective in stirring debate on the topic among students.
One final thought: on campuses today, many students are subjected to mandatory “diversity orientation” programs that use discrimination against people on the basis of arbitrary characteristics (such as having blue eyes) to make a point about the unpleasantness and unfairness of race or gender discrimination. Many of these mandatory programs are odious and coercive, and should be ended. Yet if such programs are widely accepted in academia (and they are), there can be no basis for claiming that a real political protest such as an affirmative action or pay equity bake sale is illegal discrimination.