Written by Abigail Rosenthal.
Like any academic institution, the University of Texas hopes to engage students, open up perspectives, and facilitate conversations around new ideas in order to produce tomorrow’s leaders, scholars, and Fortune 500 CEOs. This can and should occur everywhere on campus –– in classrooms, dorms, and outside on the way to class. As the Young Conservatives of Texas threw their second Affirmative Action Bake Sale on October 26, the student body responded.
The bake sale consisted of store bought cookies and a sign indicating different prices depending on the ethnicity of the buyer, with Asian students paying the most at $1.25 and Native American students paying the least at no cost.
According to the Facebook page created for the event, the bake sale “intended to illustrate this disastrous policy that demeans minorities on our campus by placing labels of race and gender on their accomplishments.”
As passersby began interacting with YCT and word spread, a protest 200 strong soon grew on the West Mall in front of the bake sale table.
News outlets such as USA Today, CNN, and Buzzfeed soon reported on the event and its resultant protest. While YCT hosted the same bake sale in 2013 (incidentally, the same year the “Catch An Illegal Immigrant Party” was proposed), protesters were few and news coverage was sparse.
“I have been part of the University Democrats for my entire collegiate career, and [YCT] always table next to University Democrats,” said Jordee Rodriguez, a junior Government and Rhetoric and Writing major who was pictured in the coverage. “But when they were having the bake sale back in ’13, I did see it, and I was mad, and I did have an argument with the people that were leading it, but it did not garner as much attention as it did this year.”
Debbie Nehikhuere, a freshman Journalism major, saw the protest on Facebook Live and left class to go participate. As time went on and YCT eventually abandoned its table, conversations moved from affirmative action to other racial issues.
Black students at the protest invited others to Dr. Leonard Moore’s class “Black Power Movement” the next day to continue the conversation and learn more about the perspectives of black students on campus.
“So many people ended up coming,” Nehikhuere said. “We ask people to come and visit in… our professor, Dr. Moore, always loves people coming in.”
Attitudes toward different ethnicities on campus have improved in years past, but many students agree that displays like this contribute to the problem. The backlash YCT faced from a sizable portion of the student body was largely considered unsurprising and well-deserved, based on the protest and the reactions from students and others on social media, such as the comments found under the hashtag #UTBakeSale on Twitter.
Some are even calling for action against YCT for the display.
“I am happy that there is backlash, I am however… not in support of some of the proposed punitive actions that have been put on the [Student Government] floor,” said Rodriguez.
“I do believe in the First Amendment. Though I think they lack information and are, in my worldview at least, ignorant… I don’t think that their voices should be suppressed, but rather heard, then discussed, [in order] to reason with them or at least make them realize their arguments are wrong.”
While the protest stemmed from an unpleasant incident, some feel that having these discussions on campus can promote understanding between different ethnicities on campus and encourage new perspectives.
“I think race relations could be better, and we need to have more conversations like these, which is why I was glad the bake sale happened,” Nehikhuere said. “UT still has a long way to go, don’t get me wrong, but we’re still trying to have conversations and we’re still trying to connect and communicate with people of different cultures.”
Possibly due to its prominence on social media, the actions of YCT and the resultant protest were covered more extensively than in 2013. News organizations such as CNN, Buzzfeed, and Time covered the event, mainly drawing from social media posts of students who were there.
“I would’ve liked them taking the experiences of some of the people in that crowd to better understand the stories of colored people and not just see them as a demographic or a number, but rather a story and people that actually have struggles and are institutionally oppressed, because otherwise you can’t realize that’s the truth and you stick to your own perspective of the world,” Rodriguez said.
Protesters felt that YCT was ignoring issues that do not always directly face its members, contributing to their view that the bake sale was justified.
“You don’t have to know about certain things that the black community or any minority community has had to face,” Nehikhuere said.
Rodriguez and Nehikhuere come from some of the least and most diverse areas in the country, respectfully. Rodriguez is from Laredo, Texas, a city considered the least diverse area in the country due to its population being 98 percent Hispanic. She came to UT in 2013, witnessing YCT’s previous events as well as other controversial occurrences, such as Phi Gamma Delta’s “Border Patrol” party in 2015.
“Because I am Hispanic, I never experienced racism [in Laredo],” Rodriguez said. “I was just a part of a crowd that all looked like me. When I came here, to the UT campus and in the UT campus, I experienced my first instance of racism.”
Nehikhuere’s experience growing up in Fort Bend County near Houston, where multiple ethnicities are considered nearly equally represented. She believes diversity on campus allows others to learn from each other and communicate better as she learned to do in her hometown.
“Race is just a part of our society and we can’t stop that race is a part of our society; it’s what makes us different and what makes us diverse and what makes us learn from each other,” Nehikhuere said.
“We need to be tolerant of other people’s races… and be celebratory of the fact that you’re different from me and I can learn from your culture and you can learn from mine and we can grow together as people.”