IRVINE – As the recall election dominates headlines and newscasts, the racial-data measure on the Oct. 7 ballot, Proposition 54, has seen little public debate. That is, except at the University of California, Irvine.
On Thursday, students argued and nearly came to blows over a controversial bake sale – stopped only when a UCI administrator stepped in. On Friday, some on campus were still debating whether one group of students was being discriminatory to others and whether some students’ free-speech rights were violated.
For the last day of Welcome Week on Thursday, UCI’s chapter of College Republicans set up an informational booth, just like other clubs on campus. What set the Republicans’ apart was their “affirmative action bake sale” in which different prices were established for different races and genders. For example, white males were charged $1 for a doughnut, while non-white males were charged 75 cents.
The intent of the bake sale – which has been done on other campuses as well – was to poke fun at affirmative-action programs and press the Republicans’ point on Prop. 54, which would ban the collection of racial data by most state agencies. It is sponsored by UC Regent Ward Connerly.
The fracas began when members of MEChA, the Chicano student group, noticed the bake sale. MEChA member Salvador G. Sarmienpo said he was insulted by the sale and decided to take action.
“The idea was to let them know it was offensive to us and ask if they would stop,” he said. “By the time we got there, there was a very heated argument around the table. Nobody could hear what people were saying.”
After about 30 minutes of raging debate, a student notified Sally Peterson, dean of students.
When she arrived, she said, she immediately realized the College Republicans were in breach of UC’s nondiscrimination policy. This policy, which all clubs sign, states: “The University of California does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin” and other criteria. She asked the group to stop the sale.
“I told them that I understood they have points they want to make clear, but you can’t do anything remotely discriminatory,” Peterson said.
The Republicans complied, but were not happy about it.
“I told (Peterson) that this is our First Amendment right, because we were just satirizing,” said Bryan Zuetel, president of the College Republicans. “We thought it would help people understand our message – but instead we had to take it down.
“It was a demonstration of what can go on when governments collect racial data. We shouldn’t collect racial data on who gets into schools. It’s not the American way to get into school on your race.”
Sarmienpo disagrees not only with Zuetel’s take on the proposition, but on the methods used by the College Republicans.
“The campus is very polarized on these issues,” he said. “A fight almost broke out. It makes me think that if they had better arguments, they wouldn’t have to use those tactics.”
Peterson said she did not infringe on the College Republican’s First Amendment rights.
“The booth had a lot of literature and the only thing they took down was the (bake sale) menu,” she said.