College Bake Sales Spark Conflict · 23 December 2003

By Melanthia Mitchell, Associated Press, 12/24/03

SEATTLE - Campus bake sales by conservatives who oppose affirmative-action are cooking up discord - and complaints about restrictions on free speech.

Organizers charge white students $1 for a cookie, while blacks and other minorities pay 25 to 95 cents. Doughnuts are available for 50 cents to everyone except Asian Americans and whites, who cannot purchase them.

Unfair? So is affirmative action, organizers contend.

" It's a good example of what affirmative action does, judging people based on race," said Jason Chambers, president of the University of Washington College Republicans, which held a sale in October that shut down when some students began attacking the booth.

" People were upset. People did feel offended," said Anthony Rose, president of the UW Black Student Union. "You see something like that, you feel itemized."

In September, Southern Methodist University shut down a similar event by the Young Conservatives of Texas.

Similar bake sales have been held since February at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Northwestern University near Chicago, the University of Michigan and Indiana University.

A conservative watchdog group in Philadelphia contends some universities are violating students' constitutional freedoms by restricting the protests.

" They cannot defend in public what they have done to the First Amendment at the University of Washington," said Thor Halvorssen, CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "There is no question that the administration would never censor a group of students holding a peaceful protest in favor of affirmative action."

The UW College Republicans' Oct. 8 bake sale took place about the same time as a step performance by a traditionally black fraternity and drew plenty of attention.

Chambers said students engaged in a couple hours of good, heated discussion, until some began yelling and tearing down signs, even throwing cookies at members of the conservative group.

" I really thought that everyone on campus could maintain their composure and have a civil discussion without getting violent. I was really surprised that it went that far," Chambers said.

UW spokesman Robert Roseth said the administration had nothing to do with the shutdown. The group's members dismantled the booth voluntarily after the office of student affairs asked them if they wished to take it down, he said.

Rose, a 20-year-old junior majoring in American Ethnic Studies, backs up the university's account.

" It was for their own safety," Rose said. "They shut themselves down."

In a letter responding to the melee, Board of Regents President Jerry Grinstein expressed disappointment with the sale.

" The statements of the UW College Republicans in putting on a bake sale about affirmative action were tasteless, divisive and hurtful to many members of the university community," he wrote.

In the incident at Southern Methodist University, organizers described the event as a bake sale - not an anti-affirmative-action protest - in their application for event space, said Jim Caswell, vice president for student affairs.

Had the university known it was a demonstration, a more appropriate location would have been chosen, Caswell said. A staff member thought the friction was likely to escalate, and stopped the event, he said.

"I think it's important to note that freedom of expression was not the issue, it was the hostile environment created by the Young Conservatives' failure to fully disclose their intentions," Caswell said.