Going to college at a predominantly White institution (PWI) as a queer Black woman was difficult on its own. However, when considering that I was also first-generation and low income, I was at a severe disadvantage academically, professionally and socially. This is why a recent story about a Pitzer College student’s request to live with non-white people struck such a chord with me.
According to CBS News, a Black student named Kare Ureña, 20, was looking for off campus housing while attending the small liberal arts school in Claremont, California. She made a post on Facebook indicating that she “didn’t want to live with any white folks.” Now, the University’s President Melvin Oliver, who also happens to be the first African American to lead the undergraduate campus, has said it is “inconsistent with [the University’s] mission and values.” He also indicated that the University is concerned with “complex intercultural issues, not to isolate individuals on the basis of any protected status.”
Several things about this interaction are quite interesting.
First, the University claims to value “intercultural issues” and understanding but has only enrolled 5% of students who identify as Black or African American as of September 2015. Asian identifying students are roughly 7% of the student population and Hispanic students are roughly 15%. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of the school’s enrolled students identify as White. It seems that, since 1 in 2 students at the University is White, the likelihood that Ureña will have access to white people outside of her residence is quite high.
Next, as someone who experienced being stuck in a living situation with culturally and ethnically diverse students in college, I still struggle to understand how this added stress and anxiety could possibly prove healthy or productive for college students.
According to the Claremont Independent, a student named Nina Lee stated in response to the post, “We don’t want to have to tiptoe around fragile white feelings in a space where we just want to relax and be comfortable.” The Women’s Studies major continued by stating. “I could live with white people, but I would be far more comfortable living with other poc.”
According to the Washington Post, Ureña and her roommate Sajo Jefferson, 19, who identifies as multiracial Black explained that “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 went on, “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.”
Clearly, these students are asking that their living spaces be free of white supremacy and available for them to move about without the added worry of having to deal with potentially racist and/or problematic white roommates. It has already been proven that millennials are “just as racist as their parents” so it makes sense that Ureña and Jefferson would be cautious about opening their living space to white students.
Finally, we have to be honest about why this post has drawn any attention in the first place. The idea that people can be racist against White people is still quite popular no matter how foolish and impossible the notion is. In fact, a student named Dalia Zada responded to Ureña’s post by saying,” ‘POC only?’ Maybe I’m missing something or misunderstanding your post, but how is that not a racist thing to say?” Honestly, White people often miss racism when they exhibit it themselves or benefit from it in the institutions and occupations they unfairly receive greater access to than non-White people. Zada’s concerns underscore that phenomenon clearly.
The ubiquity of whiteness means that people of color, especially Black people, rarely get privacy or distance from white people. These students were exercising their right to look for roommates who were more likely to share a greater knowledge of their experiences and cultural histories in the United States than those who do not. Luckily, they got the roommates they wanted. And, they will likely all be better off because of it.
Photo: Kare Ureña/Facebook