At the Claremont colleges in California, a typical Facebook housing post started a debate about racism on campus earlier this month. Karé Ureña, a junior at Pitzer, and Sajo Jefferson, a sophomore at Pomona, made a Facebook post saying they needed a fourth roommate for an off-campus house. The controversy? The two students asked that the roommate be "POC only," according to The Washington Post. Soon, people started to push back in the post's comments, asking why the students were excluding white people.
“It’s exclusive [because] I don’t want to live with any white folks,” Ureña, who describes herself as Afro-Carribean, wrote back.
The two students further defended their reasoning in an email to the Post:
“When and if you understand this context, it becomes clear that students of color seeking a living space that is all-POC is not only reasonable, but can be necessary,” they wrote. “We live in a world where the living circumstances of POC are grounded in racist social structures that we can not opt out of. These conditions threaten the minds, bodies and souls of people of color both within and without the realms of higher education. We are fighting to exist.”
Before Ureña removed the post after finding a fourth roommate, there was a thread of Facebook comments supporting and criticizing the students that gave context to the situation. Some thought the Ureña and Jefferson had every right to only consider people of color as their roommate, while others thought it was discriminatory.
“I think that a POC-only housing policy is about as clear-cut an example of prejudice as one could find," one commenter wrote. "I completely understand the desire not to live with people who could be racist, but excluding all white people is an extremely blunt instrument to achieve that end and a harmful overgeneralization.”
Another comment had a different perspective, however: "White people have cause[d] so much trauma on these campuses … why in the world would I want to bring that into my home? A place that is supposed to be safe for me?”
The President of Pitzer College, Melvin Oliver, who is also a sociologist specializing in racial inequality, released a statement to the Pitzer community on Wednesday saying that Ureña's post was "inconsistent with [Pitzer's] Mission and values," and that "social media is not an effective platform to enegage in complex dialog on seemingly intractable critical issues that varied histories and contested understandings."
As colleges around the country grapple with making their school cultures more reflective of their diverse student bodies, these debates are par for the course. From the protests at Mizzou to the actions at Yale, college students are no longer okay with the status quo—and that means we all have to work hard to learn from one another.