Condemn recent bake-sale protest of affirmative action
Bake sales are usually a way for clubs to raise funds for upcoming projects or trips, or even to raise awareness of club’s presence on campus. Recently, however, the University of Texas Austin division of the Young Conservatives of Texas used a bake sale as a form of political discourse when they held an “affirmative action bake sale,” where prices for goods varied based on an individual’s racial identity. For a cookie, an Asian male was charged $1.50 and an Asian female, $1.25; prices gradually decreased, with Native American students paying nothing.
Per the club’s chairman, Vidal Castañeda, the purpose was to “highlight the insanity of assigning our lives based on our race and ethnicity, rather than our talents, work ethic, and intelligence.” According to an Oct. 26 Huffington Post article, the chapter “priced the baked goods … attempting to mirror what they believe is preferential treatment in the application process.” This attitude represents a widespread misconception of unfairness that has plagued controversy around affirmative action. Affirmative action attempts to create a level playing field for all individuals; it does not put minorities at an unfair advantage.
This protest not only perpetuates misinformation regarding affirmative action but also devalues all the work that students of color at the university have done. This act is essentially saying that the main reason these students can attend the university is because of their race. The point of affirmative action is to surmount the societal barriers that students of color face so everyone can finally have access to the same resources and opportunities. According to the U.S. Census, in 2015, the mean income for black households was approximately $54,000, while white households earned around $80,000 on average. With lower incomes, students of color are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting outside resources like SAT preparation or outside instruction that some schools cannot afford to offer for free. Affirmative action programs seek out intelligent students who already fit a university’s academic criteria and give students the help that they need to ensure that their talents are appropriately recognized.
Surprisingly enough, UT Austin is not the only school to hold a protest of this sort. Similar protests were held at Bucknell University in 2009 and at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011. Bucknell students held a “bake sale” with prices similar to those used at UT Austin, and the administration promptly shut it down, according to a June 23, 2009 Wall Street Journal post. The UCLA protest also had bake-sale prices that varied based upon race and was met with opposition and protest from other students.
Although other schools have had similar protests against affirmative action, the recent bake sale at UT Austin is particularly interesting given its history of controversy regarding affirmative action. In 2008, Abigail Fisher was denied admission to UT Austin and took her case to court, arguing that the university’s decision to use race as a part of the admissions process was unfair to her and other Caucasian students. This June, however, the Supreme Court ruled against Fisher’s claim that she was discriminated against by the university.
At one point, UT Austin actually did give priority to minority applicants, but that was ruled unconstitutional as a result of the 1996 Hopwood v. Texas case. By 2003, the university had a new system in place where 75 percent of the applicants accepted were those who were within the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, while the other 25 percent were accepted because of their Personal Achievement Index. A student’s PAI is generated based on their grades, extracurricular activities, essays, leadership roles, community service and race, among other characteristics that contribute to the person’s holistic character.
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, Fisher argued that a university cannot determine what diversity is based on a set quota of minority students. According to a July 29, 2016 BBC article, Fisher claims, “I would prefer to be in a classroom with people who have had different life experiences than me, and to learn about what they’ve encountered in their life thus far, and learn from that. And I don’t think that’s necessarily something that racial diversity will help.” The university, however, argued that through the top-10-percent admissions method, they had already reached the “critical mass” of diversity, or the number of diverse students needed to create an environment suitable for interaction and discussion between students and educators. Since Fisher was not within the top 10 percent, her application was judged based on her PAI, the likely basis of her rejection. In a Dec. 16, 2015 Huffington Post article, of the admitted students with lower grades than Fisher, only 5 were black and 42 were white, thus rendering her claims unsound.
The conservative group behind the UT Austin protest has not only displayed its ignorance of affirmative action and the struggles of others but also failed to recognize its own privilege. The members of this group have the privilege of not having to benefit from affirmative action or even being at a disadvantage due to their race, and as a result, they find fault in any programs that give minorities what they feel is an “unfair advantage.”
To quote Lyndon B. Johnson, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.” Minority youth face obstacles, such as income inequality and housing inequality, that their parents face, which have a direct impact on their educational opportunities. The very least that can be done is to support programs that aim to give everyone equal opportunities. The goal of affirmative action is to create the equity needed for everyone to succeed, and those opposed to it fail to understand the flaws in society that render it necessary.