The “affirmative action bake sale” hosted Friday on Bruin Walk by Young Americans for Liberty was a crude and offensive stunt. It did nothing but damage the campus conversation on the topic as well as the reputation of the organization.
The group certainly had the right to hold the event, misguided as it was. But as a self-proclaimed voice of political leadership on campus, Young Americans for Liberty should have had the foresight and taste not to engage in attention-seeking sensationalism.
The group priced its goods at the bake sale differently for customers based on race, presenting customers with prices ranging from 50 cents for Native Americans to $2.50 for Asian-Americans. The goal, according to group members, was to showcase that affirmative action is inherently racist.
The result was a grossly oversimplified look at the topic of race in higher education admissions and insensitive treatment of a subject that personally affects many students on this campus.
Young Americans for Liberty would have observers believe that under affirmative action students of minority backgrounds would have what amounts to a “free ticket,” regardless of their other qualifications. Affirmative action allows for the consideration of race as an admissions factor, among many others – it is not a free pass.
After three days of discussion with administrators who urged the student group to find other ways to voice its opposition to affirmative action, Young Americans for Liberty decided to carry out the bake sale in order to make a statement in a conversation that it felt had ignored its voice.
But instead of engaging with other student groups in collaborative programming or voicing their concerns at meetings of the Undergraduate Students Association Council to communicate their point of view, the students who hosted this event merely elected to take the path of most resistance, intent on kicking up dust.
Indeed, the history of affirmative action bake sales and the outrage they engender indicates that Young Americans for Liberty was far more interested in creating a scene than engaging in a conversation about race-conscious admissions. Similar bake sales at UC Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin have been divisive and the students who held this event had every reason to believe it would be equally controversial this time around.
Students seeking to advocate for or against affirmative action must approach the conversation in good faith, rather than intentionally drumming up controversy to turn heads.
That criteria applies to both sides of the conversation.
For example, speakers at a recent rally in protest of Proposition 209 hosted by the Afrikan Student Union and sponsored by several USAC offices, went so far as to unfairly characterize former chancellor Albert Carnesale as a racist. No matter the group or its ideological position, misinformation and shock value are unacceptable means for campus organizations to prove a point.
Such stunts create reactions rather than results. They impede cooperation in the search for a remedy to the decline of diversity at UCLA, and fly in the face of the understanding that, as Carnesale once said, “a diverse student body will, indeed ‘lift the level of civilization of all of us’.”
Moving forward, student groups of all stripes must make an effort to participate in honest, clear-minded and progressive activism that will not embitter the campus conversation on important and controversial issues.