In most respects, the roommate-wanted notice seemed routine. Three students at the Claremont colleges in Southern California were looking for a fourth this summer to join them in an off-campus house. They added a caveat in parentheses: “POC only,” they said, using a common abbreviation for people of color.
When a classmate challenged that condition, the Pitzer College student who posted the notice on Facebook pushed back. “It’s exclusive [because] I don’t want to live with any white folks,” wrote Karé Ureña, who is black.
The online comments touched off a debate this week over race at Pitzer and neighboring colleges, one that flared into national headlines after the Claremont Independent student magazine wrote about it.
To some, Ureña’s request was completely understandable following a racially charged year when many students of color had demanded more support from the administration. To others, it was simple racism to exclude potential roommates based on skin color.
The thread fit into the heated discussions about race, identity, culture, freedom of speech and campus “safe spaces” that have played out at colleges across the country, from Yale to Missouri and beyond.
Pitzer President Melvin Oliver — a sociologist who is an expert on racial inequality — sent a message to the campus community Wednesday about the housing ad and the debate it sparked. It read, in part:
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 five Claremont colleges — Pitzer, Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Scripps — are a community of highly regarded schools east of Los Angeles.
As of last fall, 48 percent of the 1,067 undergraduates at Pitzer were identified as white. Fifteen percent were Hispanic, 9 percent Asian American, 9 percent multiracial and 5 percent African American. The rest were either foreign students or of unknown race or ethnicity. The demographic profiles of the other Claremont colleges are fairly similar.
SOURCE: Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga
The Washington Post