By Emmett Berg
BERKELEY, Calif (Reuters) - A bake sale held by UC Berkeley student Republicans on Tuesday designed to mock diversity efforts by state legislators drew about 200 people on both sides of the incendiary issue, but little in the way of fireworks.
Plans by the Berkeley College Republicans to sell baked goods priced according to race and gender had touched a nerve at the University of California at Berkeley -- where the chancellor said it ran counter to campus "Principles of Community" calling for civilized debate.
But the bake sale proceeded in a largely calm fashion, with about 15 to 20 student Republicans and some 200 opponents who engaged in a silent counter-protest in front of news cameras.
Counter protesters also offered free baked goods of their own and held signs, at times engaging the student Republicans in spirited debate over the issues of affirmative action, equal opportunity and diversity.
Andy Nevis, executive director of the Berkeley College Republicans, watched the proceedings and said he was surprised by the media attention given to the bake sale, which he said was similar to events held at other college campuses over the past decade or so.
He attributed much of the media excitement to a resolution by Berkeley's student government supporting SB 185, a bill passed by the California legislature -- although not yet signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown -- that would allow the state's public universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin of admissions applicants.
"It was inappropriate for them to claim they were representative of the entire student body when they passed a resolution on support of SB 185," Nevis said. "Had they not done that we wouldn't be here today."
A folding table set up by the student Republicans selling the baked goods was surrounded by camera crews as a few students walked up and purchased them, some expressing support for the message.
"I think what you guys are doing is hilarious. I think most people here they just don't get it," student John Parsley told the student cashier after purchasing a white cupcake.
Nearby, two Berkeley students, both women belonging to a group called Conscious Cupcakes, offered free baked goods of their own and said they wanted to support those "hurt by the tactics" of the student Republicans.
"We made 250 (cupcakes) last night and we've got 200 left. Business is good," Nicole Fisher said.
Other students walked through the crowd handing out free pastries and hawking petitions to overturn California's Proposition 209, a ballot measure approved by voters in 1996 that prohibits the state from granting preferential treatment to students based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.
Meanwhile two male students in black capes appeared with a six-foot long green, blow-up dragon and a sign reading: "Increase Hogwarts Diversity" -- a reference to the fictional school of wizardry and witchcraft featured in the Harry Potter book series.
While enactment of SB 185 does not require university admissions officers to give preferential treatment to applicants on the basis of race or gender, it would allow them to consider such factors.
(Additional reporting by Maura Mooney and Steve Gorman; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)