The Cardinal Conservatives at Wesleyan University in Connecticut put on a bake sale last week, which wouldn’t be noteworthy but for one thing: The bake sale was an affirmative action bake sale, in which prices are set according to acceptance rates for different racial groups.
The conservative student group sold baked items at different set prices ($2.00 for white students, $1.50 for Asians, $1.00 for Latinos, $0.75 for African Americans, and free for Native Americans) to highlight what they call the inherently racist practices of affirmative action programs, and passed out fliers for an event the following evening to discuss affirmative action.
These kinds of events have gained popularity on some campuses in the past decade, most notably at Bucknell in Pennsylvania, where administrators shut down a 2009 event. The Cardinal Conservatives at Wesleyan weren’t shut down, but the bake sale has sparked serious controversy at the liberal arts college.
Already, the bake sale has launched multiple events, an editorial and an op-ed condemning the event in the student newspaper the Argus, personal email from teaching faculty to a student involved with the bake sale, and a summons for the Cardinal Conservatives to appear before a student government body to explain the bake sale. Student groups hung banners in the student center this week in a coordinated reaction to the bake sale event.
“Affirmative action is a band-aid on a social gash,” one banner read. “It does not begin to level the playing field.”
Friday, the Wesleyan campus will host two events in response to the bake sale. The following email was sent to the entire student body:
In response to the Affirmative Action Bake Sale sponsored by the Wesleyan Cardinal Conservatives, a group of concerned students and faculty will be hosting a forum on FRIDAY (NOVEMBER 5) AT 5PM IN USDAN ROOM 108. This forum will provide an open space for anyone interested to listen and voice their thoughts, opinions, feelings, questions, concerns, etc. about the bake sale. In so doing, we hope to address not only what affirmative action policies are and how they pertain to Wesleyan, but also, our campus climate and deeper societal issues that acted as catalysts for this event. Other points of interest are equally open for discussion. Hope to see you there!
Sonia Manjon, VP for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer
Renee Johnson-Thornton, Dean for Diversity
Another event, sponsored by students on campus, will take place earlier in the day. The email below was sent to students on campus (but was not a campus-wide email):
We are asking for people to show support by showing up to USDAN between 12pm and 2pm in Wes colors, BLACK, RED, and WHITE.
Join us as we educate Wesleyan on the true facts of Affirmative Action and we discuss how race has been played out on this campus. It is important that we have a large number of people show up so that people understand that this is not something that can just be forgotten. This is important and we need to sta…rt realizing that things will only get worse if we do not stand up and say something.
Even if you do not want to publicly get up and say something or take a stance, your presence is just as important. Support your peers because if it weren’t for people who spoke out against these type of things African-Americans, Latin@s nor Women would even be here at Wes to do things like play SPORTS.
So think about that before you decide to say that “it wasn’t that big of a deal” or “you don’t have enough time”.
I WOULD LIKE TO ALSO STRESS THAT THIS IS NOT A STUDENT OF COLOR EVENT. WE ARE A GROUP PF [sic] CONCERNED STUDENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO EDUCATE WESLEYAN ON THE TRUTH.
The full exchange between Rowe and Professor Claire Bond Potter has been provided by Rowe:
From: [Claire Potter]
Date: Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 3:52 PM
Subject: the bake sale
To: [Victoria Rowe]
The announcement about the affirmative action Bake sale was forwarded to me by a colleague. I cannot tell you how hurtful this event was to many of your fellow students, whose admission to this university, and presence in our classes, is an honor to them and a privilege to our community. At Wesleyan, faculty are charged with valuing *all* of our stiudents, from the moment of admission to the day they depart, BA in hand. Such events as the one your organization mounted are mere stunts that do not promote dialogue. Rather , they are intended to promote solidarity among young conservatives at different campuses. Actual speech promotes dialogue, not mocking others and implying that some students are less accomplished and less deserving than other students; or that some faculty must not belong at Wesleyan because they might have been appointed with attention to faculty diversity.
Without speaking the word race, you and your group are in fact stigmatizing students of color and their allies without mustering any facts that these fellow students *are* less “qualified” to attend a competitive university than you and your political allies are. While perhaps you do not intend to harm people, by producing a self-aggranding event that also promotes a false idea about our admissions policy (which promotes the admission of many different kinds of students for many different reasons, including the admission of large numbers of men who do not meet the admissions standards set by women and the children of celebrities who raise our national profile) you do a great deal of harm. As an addendum, studies show (see Bowen et. al.) that the largest number of students to be advantaged in the admissions process are actually the children of alumni/ae, or so-called “legacies.” If you really want to talk about admissions policy, you should read about it, talk about it, and research the policies of your institution and how they are acted on, not organize public stunts that embarrass fellow students without making yourself available for an intelligent conversation about the facts.
I am very disappointed that the Campus Republicans cannot bring themselves to promote a real dialogue, and an elevated one at that. There will be a student run event Friday at 5 in Usdan to discuss this matter, and I hope you will make yourself available for the dialogue you say you want.
Claire Bond Potter
Professor, History and American Studies
From: [Victoria Rowe]
Date: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:49 AM
Subject: the bake sale
To: [Claire Potter]
The intent of the affirmative action bake sale was to initiate a dialogue among students on the topic of affirmative action. At the event, we actively engaged a multitude of students in conversation. Some agreed with us, and others did not, but the event prompted the discussion. We passed out fliers encouraging students to debrief and discuss the event at a meeting that was held Wednesday evening. This meeting was a forum for intelligent discussion. Everyone was invited.
The Cardinal Conservatives believes that all people are created equal and wholeheartedly condemns racism. We brought public attention to the topic of affirmative action, because we believe the practice of affirmative action is inherently racist. Giving preference to an individual, based on his or her race, implies that the individual needs a preference, because he or she is inferior. This practice also discriminates against the individual who was denied a position or admission because he or she was not the desired race. We were in no way implying that students of color are less qualified to attend a competitive university than Caucasian students. Rather, we were stating that that is the implication of affirmative action.
We believe that genuine equality can only be achieved when individuals are judged based on their own merit, not anything else. People of all races come from different backgrounds and conditions. An applicant should be evaluated based on his or her achievements in the context of his or her environment. Intelligence, character, integrity, and other desirable qualities can be demonstrated in many ways.
The event was specifically focused on affirmative action practices, but we are aware of the practice of admitting a greater number of men to create a balance between the number of men and women on campus, admitting the children of celebrities, and admitting legacy students for reasons other than just merit. We also disapprove of these practices.
Additionally, the affirmative action bake sale was in no way associated with the Wesleyan College Republicans. An email was sent to the College Republican listserv about the bake sale, but it was not run-by or endorsed by the student group. The Cardinal Conservatives sponsored the event.
I am attending an event in out-of-state this weekend. I have planned on attending it for months. My ride leaves before 5pm, so I regret to say that I will be unable to attend the discussion at Usdan. I truly hope that the discussion this afternoon goes well.
From: [Claire Potter]
Date: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:57 AM
Subject: Re: bake sale
To: [Victoria C Rowe]
Thank you for this response, although it evades the issue of why such an event would be necessary if the organization did *not* believe that there were students of color admitted to Wesleyan who were unqualified to attend. Nor does it respond in any way to the substantial harm that has been caused to a great many students of color and their allies.
There are many of us that think this event, in and of itself, was racist because of that harm, and that the failure to consider that as an outcome of a certain kind of political speech is not what we expect of Wesleyan students, regardless of their political beliefs.
with great regret that we have become acquainted in this way,