Students at the Claremont colleges in California recently sparked a debate when they made a Facebook post looking for a fourth roommate, requesting "POC only."
Many were upset about the request, calling it racist, and President of Pitzer College Mervin Oliver released a statement saying the post was inconsistent with the college's values.
I can't blame people for their immediate reactions to this, but the truth is, there's nothing wrong with people of color requesting a POC only roommate.
The term "safe space" is thrown around as a media buzzword these days, used to terrorize the public into thinking Millennials and college students are changing the way we all live. But safe spaces have their roots in marginalized groups. When they aren't overused or abused or used to frighten authority figures, safe spaces are simply supposed to be a space that is designed for members of a marginalized group to feel comfortable away from the typical systemic oppression they face on a daily basis.
As an LGBTQ+ person, I completely get why some people need safe spaces. I have non-queer friends. In fact, a majority of my friends and family members aren't queer. None of them are outwardly discriminatory to the queer community. But the fact is that, despite meaning well, non-queer people don't get what my experience is like as a marginalized queer woman. They don't understand the homophobia and biphobia that I experience on a near daily basis. And they can't completely get why I have to be wary in spaces that aren't specifically designed for the LGBTQ+ community.
It can be really hard to find people to live with who completely understand you, especially if you're multiply marginalized (POC + queer, POC + Muslim, POC + Native American, etc). But I think it's everyone's right to make choices about who they live with, and if they want their roommates to represent a marginalized community that they're a part of, I don't think there's anything wrong or racist about that.
I consider myself a comrade to marginalized communities I'm not a part of, but I'll always step out of the way if it's a "POC only" space, or a "transgender only" space, or any other space not meant for me. Because that's exactly what I'd want my allies to do for me.