Amid an ongoing tempest of public backlash, Shawn Lewis calmly looked into the camera as he confronted a state politician on national television.
Lewis, a UC Berkeley junior and president of the group, found himself toe-to-toe on CNN with state Senator Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina — the author of the affirmative action-like SB 185 the bake sale protested — defending his group’s event and ideals against repeated allegations of racism and insensitivity.
“If it wasn’t for the attention that (the bake sale) got, we wouldn’t be having this really, really serious conversation about the policy,” Lewis said in an interview Wednesday.
Lewis expected people to get upset about the bake sale, which used a tiered pricing structure based on race and sex. Even he admitted the pricing structure was racist. However, he did not anticipate the magnitude of attention his group’s event received.
“Some people think that (the campus Republicans) did this publicity stunt, but the fact is if people didn’t react in the way and the volume that they did, this would have gone totally unnoticed,” Lewis said. “If the event went up and a couple (college Republicans) sold some cupcakes … it would not have become an international story as it has.”
But despite the point Lewis and his group were trying to convey through the bake sale, reaction from the campus community has been overwhelmingly negative.
Cal Berkeley Democrats President Anais LaVoie, speaking personally and not on behalf of her group, said if she had been in Lewis’ position, she would have stopped the bake sale in its tracks.
“I don’t know Shawn, but … I’ve seen him monopolizing off an experience that hurt a lot of people, and that troubles me,” she said. “I hope that other folks have learned from that and will understand that that behavior is not acceptable.”
In addition to the hundreds of students who have added their critical voice to LaVoie’s, official organizations including the ASUC Senate and the campus administration also publicly criticized the campus Republicans’ — and, by extension, Lewis’ — actions.
Because of the overwhelming negative outcry, Lewis got far more than his 15 minutes of fame — although he denies this was ever the goal.
“We’re not looking for attention; we’re not looking for meaningless controversy — it was very timely, and it got people talking,” he said on Wednesday.
Lewis said he had never thought about hosting such a bake sale for the sole reason of stirring up controversy. But with SB 185 awaiting Brown’s signature and an ASUC phone bank in support of the bill already planned, he and the rest of the group’s executive board decided to insert their voice into the debate.
As the event tested the campus community, it also tested Lewis’ commitment to his conservative ideals. UC Berkeley was his dream school, despite its reputation as a bastion for liberal thought.
Still, he did not expect the level of backlash he and his student group received, which reached the point of violent threats, he said.
In fact, Lewis maintains that adhering to his beliefs within the campus’s liberal climate serves as a good indicator of his commitment to that ideology. So far, he said he has become more conservative on some issues, but also more moderate on others.
He said the bake sale tested how far he was willing to go in order to stand up for what he believed in.
“This is the first time in the past two years I’ve been here that I’m actually really face to face with people who strongly disagree with me, and I think that was really an enlightening and kind of a learning moment,” he said.