USA TODAY College – March 15, 2017
About 100 University of Illinois students took part in a bake sale Tuesday with a controversial motive: to express opposition to affirmative action — in a provocative way.
The Illini Republicans held an “affirmative action bake sale” at the quad on campus, according to campus paper The Daily Illini. Protesters responded with a pro-diversity campaign of their own.
As you may know, affirmative action is a set of laws or policies to counteract or avoid discrimination, usually in admissions or employment. Illini Republicans, like many conservatives, are against affirmative action.
And the group illustrated its opposition by assigning different price points to the items in the bake sale, identified as different groups of people: “Asians,” the sign said, cost $2; “Hispanics/Latinos” were priced at $1.50. Women? Negative 25 cents.
Written on the bottom of the poster, affixed to the bake sale table, was this caveat: “Above prices are suggested for discussion purposes. Ask for details.”
“Affirmative action has not decreased racial discrimination; it has promoted it,” the bake sale Facebook event page stated. “Affirmative action is bad economic policy. Our economy functions best when the most the most qualified individuals are given access to resources that will help them innovate and create jobs. By biasing the availability of these resources away from individuals with the highest level of academic achievement, affirmative action acts as a direct hindrance to economic growth.”
A Twitter user posted a message to students from Dementro Powell, the university’s office of registered organizations director about the event. It reads, in part:
“Student Affairs staff did meet with the students as part of the process and told them that if the event involves discriminatory pricing based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity or other characteristics it would be a violation of university policy and would be investigated by the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.”
The letter also noted that if the club went forward with their plan, they could also run afoul of the Illinois Human Rights Act and could therefore be investigated also by the Illinois Department of Human Rights. USA TODAY College reached out to Powell and has yet to receive a response.
Associate Dean of Students Justin Brown said the university did not send out a mass email about the event, but that Office for Student Conflict Resolution staff communicated with several individuals who raised concerns about it.
Brown told USA TODAY College the office has received many reports about the bake sale, regarding issues of general racism and the discriminatory pricing.
“Student affairs staff informed the [Illini Republicans] that if the event involved discriminatory pricing based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity or other characteristics, it would be a violation of university policy and would be investigated,” Brown said. “It is my understanding that, during the event, the group had signage suggesting different prices for items depending on race or ethnicity of the customer but did not actually charge these suggested rates. All items were available to all buyers at the same price.”
Brown said he is a strong supporter of affirmative action and is proud to work at an institution that applies affirmative action principles in both admissions and hiring.
Illini Republicans knew they were brewing up controversy with their bake sale.
“Although this event has stirred up emotion and controversy on both sides of the aisle, please note that this is not our main intention, but a side effect,” their Facebook event page said. “Yes, this event is brazen; to a certain extent, that is the point. By allegorizing affirmative action to something as simple as a bake sale, we hope to demonstrate the silliness of implementing this policy on a macro level.”
Illini Republicans Vice President Timothy Kilcullen said they wanted to show that there is prejudice in affirmative action programs.
“We hope that now students have seen this is wrong on the micro-scale with cookies, they will realize it is also wrong on the macro-scale with college admissions,” Kilcullen said. “Since our prices were suggested and not mandatory, we did not break any rules.”
One Twitter user noted that the group is also apparently planning a “build the wall” event sometime after spring break, according to a Twitter user.
But Kilcullen told USA TODAY College the “Build the Wall Celebration” was from a list of proposed events and that the Illini Republicans have done away with that idea.
He said they will be holding an “Ask a Republican Forum” March 30 and a “Betty Ford Bake Sale” April 7.
While Illini Republicans may be viewed as contentious, they’ve also met with community members who work around inclusivity and understanding diversity. They recently met with an advocacy group for Latino and Latina people, La Casa Cultural Latina, citing a “productive conversation.”
Protests on campus responded to the affirmative action bake sale they viewed as racist.
Other than the blockade protest, there was an organized demonstration around minorities being portrayed as quotas.
An inclusivity-oriented campus group, Crescendo, with the University of Illinois School of Music and Arts held a counter bake sale that preached diversity at the same time as the affirmative bake sale by Illini Republicans. Supporters proclaimed #IAmNotAQuota to point out that students who identify with an underrepresented minority should not be assumed to have been admitted as part of an effort to meet diversity quotas.
The Illini Republicans aren’t the first to use this bake sale tactic. University of Texas at Austin’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter held an affirmative action bake sale last fall, sparking outrage. Afterwards, the group threatened legal action if the university punished the organization for its bake sale.
The Illini Republicans plan to discuss the bake sale at a meeting this Thursday, according to an event the group posted on Facebook. Kilcullen said they will give a rundown of what happened, how much money was raised and how many people their message reached. He said they will also discuss university punishment for a student who apparently vandalized the event, as well as brainstorming for future events.
“We believe the bake sale was a tremendous success,” Kilcullen said.