The College Republicans at Grand Valley State University drew a frosty response from campus when they held an “affirmative action bake sale” last week. Offering delicious baked treats at differing prices, the Republicans charged white men $2 for a cupcake, while offering women and blacks a discounted price of 75 cents and charged Native Americans a nickel. Although the GVSU Republicans thought they were making a creative point, they were merely restaging a stunt many other conservative groups have already attempted.
Two years ago, writers and editors of The Michigan Review held a similar bake sale in Ann Arbor, charging underrepresented minorities lower prices. While a white male had to pay $1 per baked good, an underrepresented minority received a 20-cent credit toward the price of a cookie, cupcake or muffin. The sale was held to protest the point-based admissions system employed by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts — which has since been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court — but failed to account for the complexities of the point system. Similarly, while the GVSU activists attempted to demonstrate the “injustice” of affirmative action, their bake sale obscured the true reasons why affirmative action is necessary.
Affirmative action does not exist simply to foster diversity for the sake of diversity. The true purpose of affirmative action is to address underlying social inequalities that face underrepresented minorities well before they apply to colleges. Suburban white and Asian students tend to receive a series of benefits throughout their lives — including stronger schools, better academic support and greater economic opportunity — that are directly reflected in higher test scores and grades. Affirmative action is meant to equalize the playing field for underrepresented minorities who do not receive these benefits. In theory, as more underrepresented minorities earn college degrees and the social inequalities pervading society are ameliorated, affirmative action will become unnecessary. The GVSU bake sale — which simply gave blacks and minorities a discount — failed to accurately represent affirmative action by not accounting for the social inequalities that make affirmative action necessary.
The sale’s implications and its gross misrepresentation of affirmative action strongly offended many GVSU students and community members. The GVSU administration has even threatened to cut the College Republicans’ funding. However, even though the College Republicans might have been unoriginal and offensive with their bake sale, cutting their funding would amount to censorship. The group attempted to start a discourse and make a political point — and it should not be punished for acting within the realm of the First Amendment. Those offended should consider a publicity drive to dispel the College Republicans’ views. They should not attempt to dismantle the organization.
With the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative threatening the institution of affirmative action in the state, those on both sides of the debate are preparing for a tough electoral fight. The GVSU College Republicans have made a move. Now, instead of attempting to silence them, those committed to affirmative action and equal opportunity need to address their argument on its merits.