An advertisement on Facebook for a roommate has sparked a debate about race at a California college that has, in turn, become a national dialogue about race.

The Washington Post reports:

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.

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.

One of the roommates who posted the “roommate wanted” ad said they want a non-white roommate due to all the “racist social structures” they can’t “opt out of.”

The Washington Post continues:

Ureña, 20, a junior at Pitzer, and one of her roommates, Sajo Jefferson, 19, a sophomore at Pomona, defended their query in a statement to The Washington Post. Ureña describes herself as Afro-Caribbean and Jefferson identifies as a multiracial black person. Minority communities on campus, they said, constantly must deal with issues that arise when they are surrounded by classmates who don’t understand where they are coming from and have little interest in finding out.

“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 to The Post. “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.”

Asked if the debate that unfolded was a reflection of national events and a glimpse of what the mood on many campuses may be like this coming year, they responded: “Our people are being killed. Every which way, through every which angle. Our people are being killed. Our housing arrangements are not racist. They are not exclusive. We are simply fighting to exist and we are fighting to exist in whatever way we can.”

The Claremont Colleges’ student paper, The Claremont Independent, shares some of the student responses.

Dalia Zada (PZ ’18) expressed concerns to the anti-white discrimination. “‘POC only?’ Maybe I’m missing something or misunderstanding your post, but how is that not a racist thing to say?”

“This is directed to protect POC, not white people. Don’t see how this is racist at all…” responded AJ León (PZ ’18). Sara Roschdi (PZ ’17), a Pitzer Latino Student Union member, stated, “People of color are allowed to create safe POC only spaces. It is not reverse racism or discriminatory, it is self preservation.”

“We don’t want to have to tiptoe around fragile white feelings in a space where we just want to relax and be comfortable,” commented Nina Lee, a Women’s Studies major. “I could live with white people, but I would be far more comfortable living with other poc.”

“White people always mad when they don’t feel included but at the end of the day y’all are damaging asf [as f*ck] and if a POC feels they need to protect themselves from that toxic environment THEY CAN! Quick to try to jump on a POC but you won’t call your friends out when they’re being racist asf,” noted Terriyonna Smith (PZ ’18), an Africana Studies major and Resident Assistant (RA) for the 2016-2017 year. “I’m not responding to NO comments and NOPE I don’t wanna have a dialogue.” It is not clear whether or not this refusal of dialogue represents the approaches to conversation on racism with fellow students encouraged by professors of Africana Studies or the Residence Life staff at Pitzer College.

Another Resident Assistant and Black Student Union member, Jessica Saint-Fleur (PZ ’18) added to the thread of comments, “White people have cause [sic] so much mf [motherf*cking] trauma on these campuses … why in the world would I want to live with that? Bring that into my home? A place that is supposed to be safe for me?”

One student who had been away in Italy for a study abroad program said that she immediately felt the increased racial division on campus upon her return.

The Washington Post continues:

Paloma Aleman, who graduated this year and describes herself as Mexican-American, saw the online debate and said that with some distance from campus she can see that the community at Pitzer is a bit sheltered. She said last year there was lengthy debate about “safe spaces” on campus, with some saying they were necessary and some calling them exclusionary.

“We have a great community in terms of creating safe spaces,” she said, noting that it caught her off-guard that the housing request this week sparked such intense reaction. “I was surprised that people thought it was an extreme request, given certain incidents that happened on campus last year.”

The fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., happened while Aleman was studying abroad in Italy. When she returned to campus she noticed “a huge cleavage between students of color and students who aren’t of color — a dramatic change.”

“Once I was back in the U.S., I definitely felt there was a huge shift in the racial climate,” she said. “I felt that racial tensions had definitely increased. Students of color were definitely feeling unsafe.”

What changed in such a short period of time that she felt a “huge shift in the racial climate”? What happened that “students of color were definitely feeling unsafe” in a “dramatic” shift from her experience at the same college before her study abroad in Italy?

Personally, I’m failing to see how anything has improved with all these “open dialogues” and “national discussions” about race; I’m failing to see anything positive coming out of movements like “Black Lives Matter.”  Instead, all we seem to accomplish is more division, more negative feelings (i.e. hate, people suddenly feeling unsafe), and more justification for more of the same.

[Featured image via Pitzer College]