Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Baked goods suppression at St. Catherines 

Another affirmative action bake sale, another suppression of free speech on a campus.

This time, it's the College of St. Catherines, where a newly-formed College Republicans chapter held one in a student union building. As has happened in many places (here's a link to all the previous coverage of affirmative action bake sales on this blog), this one sparked a protest, including a petition seeking to revoke the CRs' charter at CSC. It includes this little bit of hilarity:
What happened that day was racism�racism that is part of a larger systemic problem in our society. The language and action taken by the College Republicans are to be taken very seriously, as their position threatens and oppresses the rights and livelihoods of those whose social locations are already marginalized in our society�women, people of Color, the working class and the poor. This event led numerous students to feel unwelcomed, unwanted and unsafe.

Do not be confused. Their campaign that day was not independent of a larger systemic movement that supports and controls the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.
I'd find this simply cute, mis-educated students practicing their own speech rights, if it wasn't for the attempt to bully the administration of the College to silence the CRs. As David Bernstein has described this years ago, it's not discrimination but a piece of street theater making a political point.

As Eugene Volokh pointed out after Southern Methodist University's administration shut down a bake sale, private universities can do what they want, but
I think that they, like other private universities, should nonetheless tolerate and support a wide range of speech by students -- and if they don't, then the public should know that they really aren't committed to academic freedom.
It would be interesting to know, as Volokh also points out, why it's OK to discriminate to support diversity initiatives at CSC but not to discriminate in selling cookies to make a political point. Or why it's OK to allow someone to circulate a petition on their campus calling for punishment of a group's right of assembly based on students deciding that speech is part of "the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy."

That last point also reminds me of a post Volokh had of a letter and response by Bruce Ramsey, a columnist at the Seattle Times, after a similar bake-sale-leading-to-free-speech-suppression at the University of Washington. A flyer the CSC CRs had circulated in advance of the bake sale a press release titled "Only Racists Consider Race":

Affirmative action is meant to eliminate discrimination and to redress the effects of past discrimination. The groups that are affected by this are characterized by race, gender, ethnicity, or disability status. Affirmative action has undesirable side-effects such as undermining the achievements of minorities. This practice strives to reverse old wrongs, but in this process makes new wrongs. Factoring race into a decision-making process is the wrong way to create equality. Until Americans stop focusing on race and gender and start focusing on the individual person, discrimination will not be gone. The College Republicans plan to show students the effects of affirmative action through a bake sale. The baked goods will be priced according to the customers� race and gender. This system shows that through this practice, others are being discriminated against, which undermines the whole system.

Ramsey replied to a letter opposing UW's bake sale with "I didn't see any racist statement from the College Republicans. They were condemning racism. But from you, I hear that because I am white I think a certain way, and therefore can be dismissed."

The protesters have circulated an email yesterday around campus that asserts the CSC CRs can be similarly dismissed. They include in this document a "paradigm of colorblind racism."
In order to more completely and thoroughly understand why the actions of the College Republicans were racist, we shall call upon scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva who is respected by the CSC community and used in many courses to understand Colorblind Racism. This is the idea that privileged whites can parallel the impact of prejudice with racism, when they are simply not comparable. The College Republicans have made the public statement that they only want to be considered based on their merit, but, this ignores the institutional and systemic structures that privilege them as white women.
This is nothing more than a dismissal of their speech rights (they of course say they are for free speech, just not when it disagrees with what their leftist faculty tells them.) And the protestors also want to hold their own event and ask for equal time. Isn't this exactly what the Academic Bill of Rights -- something they detest -- also requests?

Thus a direct question to the College of St. Catherine. As an institution of higher learning, do you support academic freedom? If you feel you support it but should still sanction the College Republicans, explain how it is right to take away the rights of one student group based on the protest of another student group? And are you prepared for the slippery slope you create, for example as Volokh wonders:
Are they not aware that their views are wildly out of the American mainstream, and that they themselves would inevitably become the targets of censorship if the principle that the government may not discriminate with regard to speech based on the viewpoints expressed was weakened? This is true even if the damage to the First Amendment could be limited to so-called "hostile environment" claims. For example, conservative Christian students could claim that radical feminist professors create a "hostile environment" for them by denigrating traditional marriage, traditional sexual morality, and what they call "patriarchy."
Call their toll-free number 800-945-4599.

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