UC Berkeley, known as the bastion of free speech, has a student body that appears to suffer from the same ailment of many failed college relationships — a lack of communication.
The controversy surrounding the Berkeley College Republicans’ bake sale planned for today stems not only from the event’s offensiveness but also from the lack of communication among student groups leading up to and following the announcement of the event. Rather than holding open and honest forums to discuss the implications of SB 185 — proposed state legislation that instigated the bake sale and would allow state universities to consider factors like race and gender in admissions — student groups are not engaging with one another in a productive manner.
The bake sale itself is hurtful and thus limits the development of discussion. The Berkeley College Republicans wanted to express their frustration with the ASUC phone bank in support of SB 185 by scheduling an event at the same time. But what was meant to be a political message became an insensitive Facebook event that equated an individual’s race with a monetary value. The gimmick was intended to imitate affirmative action in a satirical manner, but the satire did not work. Not only is this pricing scale a flawed representation of how affirmative action functions — money has nothing to do with it — but reducing the value of an individual to the price of a baked good detracts from the greater conversation.
We cannot tell the Republican group not to hold the bake sale, because we respect each student organization’s right to express itself. They are also well within their rights to go forward with the event. We do, however, wish that they had approached the demonstration in a different manner.
The Berkeley College Republicans were not the only ones who failed to promote productive discourse in this whole debacle. By delivering an endorsement of SB 185 on behalf of UC Berkeley students through the planned phone banking session, the ASUC failed to reach out to and represent other voices on campus, namely the Berkeley College Republicans. While Salih Muhammad, chair of the campus Black Student Union, informed The Daily Californian’s Senior Editorial Board that he was invited to speak to the ASUC Senate on the subject of SB 185, Berkeley College Republicans President Shawn Lewis told the board that he was never contacted.
We are shocked that student government officials are even considering punishing the Republican group by revoking its funding. Such an action would further serve to undermine and quash a unique and strong student voice on campus. Acknowledging the dangerous precedent such a move could set, we strongly urge ASUC officials to strike this possibility from their discussions.
Additionally, instead of using the emergency ASUC Senate meeting held Sunday night as a forum to exchange ideas, student government officials limited public comment to less than a minute per speaker and rushed conversation in order to rubber-stamp a bill that simply asks student groups to be respectful.
We applaud External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman for being one of the few student government officials who demonstrated a willingness to reach out and communicate by contacting Lewis amid all the contention, despite Freeman’s vocal opposition to the bake sale.
Backlash against the Berkeley College Republicans has also hindered effective interaction. Student organizers of the bake sale received hateful messages and threats of violence — not exactly characteristic of a campus climate that promotes free speech or tolerance of new ideas. The town hall that took place Friday in response to the bake sale turned away members of the Republican group, according to Lewis. While we acknowledge that it is important for students to be able to air grievances privately within their community, an event marked as public should not oust attendees for their beliefs.
The campus is now left with a frenzy of miscommunication and frustration. The only positive aspect of this controversy is that it finally brings to the surface issues of race, diversity and tolerance on our campus — topics that must be discussed in order to move forward as a community. But it should not have taken an event that has led to so much anger and anguish for our campus to finally start talking. All of the hurt will be for naught if the bake sale does not result in a proper forum for free discussion.
It is not too late. Students can still correct what has so far been an egregious lack of dialogue into a productive conversation. We look to student groups and the student government to start engaging more openly with one another. We look to the administration to provide a space where the campus can come together to talk and learn from one another. Hopefully, too, we can learn to bring these important conversations to the table much sooner in the future.
This is UC Berkeley. Let us demonstrate that as mature, intelligent adults, we can have respectful, civil discourse.