A student group at the University of California Berkeley has sparked a furor by staging a bake sale that charges customers differently based on their race and gender.

The Berkeley College Republicans devised the satirical  "Increase Diversity Bake Sale," as a protest against proposed bill SB 185, which would have the race, gender, ethnicity and national origin of prospective students considered alongside other admission criteria.

The bake sale, which went ahead Tuesday despite the disapproval of the school's administration, set prices for baked goods on a sliding scale — charging the most to Caucasian males and the least to Native American women. 

Bake Sale Prices

  • White: $2.00
  • Asian: $1.50
  • Latino: $1.00
  • Black: $0.75
  • Native American: 25 cents
  • 25 cents off for all women

"If preferences based on skin color are okay for college admissions, they should be okay for other aspects of life," wrote the group's president, Shawn Lewis, on their website.

"We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point."

The bill revisits the 1996 legislation passed with Proposition 209, which currently prevents public universities from considering race, ethnicity or gender in enrollment decisions. But Tim Valderrama, an aide to Sen. Ed Hernandez who proposed the bill, told the San Francisco Chronicle bill SB 185 would not aim to admit students solely based on those factors.

"We're saying you may be able to consider that as one of a number of different criteria," said Valderrama.

U.C. Berkeley's student government, the Associated Students of the University of California, endorsed the bill and organized a call-in to Governor Jerry Brown, set for Tuesday, to encourage its passing.

The Republican student group planned to simultaneously set up their bake sale at the Sproul Plaza at U.C. Berkeley as a direct affront to the nearby phone bank.

'Half-baked' protest: critics

ASUC president Vishalli Loomba told reporters that the pay structure and the ranking of races "trivialize the struggles that people have been through and their histories."

The debate reached beyond campus when it was picked up by social media and news organizations.

Commentators from some outlets, such as Fox News, came to the bake sale group's defence, citing their right to offend and speak out against affirmative action.

Critics called the protest 'half-baked' in that it oversimplifies compelling and complex arguments for promoting diversity and remedying past discrimination.

"We're really hurt by what they did," Anais LaVoie, president of the Cal Berkeley Democrats, told CNN. 

"The way that they made the statement, the words that they used, the fact that they humourized and mocked the struggles of people of colour on this campus is very disgusting to me."

But the debate did not split neatly down partisan lines.

"Satire is supposed to be witty. It works best when it closely mirrors reality." wrote conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders.

"By implying that Asian students need a 25 per cent edge to compete with whites, or that black students need a 100 per cent advantage over whites students, the College Rs have skipped past the real world into the realm of the downright insulting."

The symbolic battle of baked goods sparked counter demonstrations, like the "Conscious Cupcakes" giveaway mounted at the same university plaza.

Berkeley's chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, has condemned the bake sale, but said he would not prevent it from taking place.

"The administration can urge, but not mandate, a person to behave with civility," he wrote in an open letter. "Freedom of speech is not properly exercised without taking responsibility for its impact."