Debate Sparked When Student Seeks Non-White Roommate

Three students at a Claremont college in Southern California were looking for a fourth roommate to join them for the upcoming school year. A roommate-wanted notice went out, and all seemed usual and routine. However, the additional detail requested the fourth roommate be a “POC,” and the abbreviation for people of color or person of color sparked a heated racial debate.

The notice was posted on Facebook, and it was via this platform that classmates began to challenge the exclusive request. The Pitzer College student who posted the notice to the social media site responded to the challenges brought by classmates. Kare Urena’s response was shared by The Washington Post.

“It’s exclusive [because] I don’t want to live with any white folks,” wrote Urena, who is black.

The debate was then heightened to a heated level and has now reached a national level following the Claremont independent student magazine writing about the exchange and the situation that sparked it.

To many, Urena’s request was understandable due to the recent events that have led to racially charged debates over the past year. However, many saw it as racist to exclude potential roommates based on skin color. The thread on social media only heated the discussion on race, identity, and freedom of speech which have been prominent on college campuses all across the nation.

Pitzer President Melvin Oliver, who is a sociologist and an expert on racial inequality, wrote and sent a message to the community on campus this past Wednesday referring to the housing notice that sparked such a debate.

“While Pitzer is a community of individuals passionately engaged in establishing intracultural safe spaces for marginalized groups, the Facebook post and several subsequent comments are inconsistent with our Mission and values. … This is but another example to us that social media is not an effective platform to engage in complex dialog on seemingly intractable critical issues that have varied histories and contested understandings. They create more heat than light and invite extreme viewpoints that intentionally obfuscate the nuanced context that surrounds these issues. Pitzer offers its new 2-course Intercultural Understanding requirement and dedicates new curricular and extra curricular programming to address difficult issues of racism, diversity, community discourse and national and international political conflict.”

The colleges of Claremont are very highly regarded post-secondary educational facilities in Los Angeles. They are, however, no stranger to racial debate. Last fall, 48 percent of the students out of 1,067 undergrads at Pitzer identified as white, with 15 percent Asian, 9 percent multiracial, and 5 percent African American. The remaining students were either foreign students or of an unknown ethnicity. In regards to the other four colleges, the demographics are very similar.

Last fall, Claremont McKenna became involved in a heated national debate over racial issues on college campuses in the area. Protests were rampant insisting that there be more diversity in student academics and on-campus affairs. Some denounced the protests as excessive.

The roommates who posted the notice seeking a fourth gave a statement to the Washington Post, defending their preference to live with roommates of color.

“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. 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.”

On Thursday, the post was removed due to the women having found their fourth roommate.

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]