The Pitzer College “POC Only” Roommate Wanted Ad [UPDATED]

"Now THAT's not racism. Why do you honkies have so much trouble understanding this?"

“Now THAT’s not racism. Why do you murderous honkies have so much trouble understanding this?”

A roommate-wanted notice posted on Facebook by a Pitzer College student has turned into yet another racial controversy. The student, along with two Pomona College students,  were seeking a fourth to join them in an off-campus house. The notice included “POC only” –person of color only—and this got them immediately called out as racists by some other students.

The ad is not racist. The text reflects a bias, as in “preference,” but that isn’t necessarily racism. Everyone has freedom of association in this country, or should. Human beings are more comfortable with those whom they perceive as being more like them. There is nothing wrong with that, but even if there is, it is human nature. There is nothing to be done about it, and there shouldn’t be anything done about it other than to help each other understand that tribalism is divisive and  a pre-programmed bias that we should fight, because getting past it makes us better neighbors, members of society and human beings.

Still, I don’t want to live with someone who doesn’t want to live with me, but who is going to accept me into a living situation based on a feeling of obligation. A house seeking someone else to share the rent isn’t a public accommodation, and there is no ethical principle demanding that the roommates can’t or shouldn’t specify the kind of individual they think would best complete the group. What if the other three are all white, and are seeking someone different from them to make the house more diverse? Is it equally offensive if the ad sought an athlete, or someone overweight (who wouldn’t make the three hefty roomies feel unattractive), or a good student, or an actor, or someone with a good sense of humor? Why? Such requirements are not a per se indication of anything but personal preferences, and personal preferences aren’t racism.

Is the “POC only” addendum unethical? Technically, it fails Kant’s “what if everybody does it?” test,  for if everybody did it, white students would have nowhere to live. There you have an example of where Kant’s Rule of Universality is worth musing about but often isn’t applicable. Some conduct is ethical despite Kant because the idea that it would become universal is too ridiculous. I want to live with a baseball fan. I don’t want to live with someone who is going to be listening to punk rock. If three roommates can look for a female fourth, or a gay fourth, or a Spanish-speaking fourth—and they can without nicking any ethics principles at all—then they can insist on racial or ethnic qualifications too.

Is it better ethics to be accepting of all equally? Sure it is. But not exhibiting exemplary ethics isn’t unethical. Again, it’s just human.

There is more to the story however. When some students commented on Facebook that the notice was racist, the replies from the students posting it and others expanded the controversy.

The Claremont Independent, a student paper that covers all five of the Claremont colleges (as well as two graduate schools), of which Pitzer is a member, published some of the comments, and they show the anti-white animus and double standards now roiling race relations in the U.S.

For example, Sara Roschdi, 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.” Her statement is, in fact, racist. If white neighborhoods trying to exclude black families from moving in because they fear for their safety is racism, so is Sara’s attitude. Racism is treating and regarding individuals negatively because of their race, and it’s racism regardless of which race does the stereotyping or engages in the prejudiced activity.

Then there are the candid remarks of Terriyonna Smith (Pizer ’18), an African Studies major and Resident Assistant:

“White people always mad when they don’t feel included but at the end of the day y’all are damaging as fuck 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 as fuck…I’m not responding to NO comments and NOPE I don’t wanna have a dialogue.”

Nice. Actually, not nice: the comment is racially hostile, resorts to stereotypes and rationalizations, is directly insulting, and is, in fact  racist “as fuck.” They also might want to think about teaching standard English and civility at Pizer because I’m not hiring any graduate who talks or writes like that.

Or who thinks like that either.

It appears that anti-white racism is a qualification for being a resident at Pizer (Full disclosure: my niece, now attending law school, graduated from another Claremont college, Pomona). Here’s another Resident Assistant and Black Student Union member, Jessica Saint-Fleur (PZ ’18) who charmingly wrote:

“White people have cause so much motherfucking 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?”

Why, thank you for that fair, well-reasoned and constructive statement, Jessica, and the sentiment it conveys.

And fuck you.

That is the response such sentiments beg for.

For his part, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver, a sociologist and an expert on racial inequality, responded to the growing controversy with a flaccid example of academic cowardice, Authentic Frontier Gibberish and jargon, saying 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.

Ah. So it’s social media’s fault! No, it’s the fault of an education institution and an increasingly divisive campus culture that enables, endorses and encourages racism by “being passionately engaged in establishing intracultural safe spaces,” if that means what I think it means. Pitzer doesn’t teach or believe in its Mission and Values, since it places bona fide racists like Smith and Saint-Fleur in positions of authority.

Pitzer College’s Mission and Values state:

“Intercultural Understanding enables Pitzer students to comprehend issues and events from cultural lenses beyond their own…[Pitzer College] supports the thoughtful exchange of ideas to increase understanding and awareness, and to work across difference without intimidation. We have the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen. Communication, even at its most vigorous, should be respectful and without intent to harm.”



Sources: Washington Post, Claremont Independent


Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Facebook, Government & Politics, Leadership, Race, This Will Help Elect Donald Trump, U.S. Society

42 responses to “The Pitzer College “POC Only” Roommate Wanted Ad [UPDATED]

  1. Rick M.

    I can just imagine the reaction if the request was for a white roommate.

  2. Glenn Logan

    SWF (single white female) Seeks Same, and the movie inspired by it, come immediately to mind.

    How many SJW snowflake alarm buttons would that push? Let’s see:

    Racism? Check. One wonders if a “white Hispanic” woman would make the cut. Maybe.
    Sexim? Check (sorry, single white trans, gay, etc.).
    Relationship bias? Check.

    Oh, the humanity.

  3. Putting “POC only” in the ad might not be actual racism but shows just how blindly ignorant some people can be about race.

    I’m not a lawyer but something from my work history as a young man working around apartments jumps out at me.

    It think the real elephant in the room is that the statement “POC only” is intentionally predefined discrimination based on race. Take this all in context, this might actually be illegal because it might be considered a “rental space” and it is ILLEGAL to discriminate for such things based on race. What’s the legal difference between these individuals renting out a space and limiting it to blacks only for their “neighbor” and a man renting apartments (a space) in his apartment building where he lives and he wants all whites as neighbors?

    Okay all you lawyers, discuss.

    • Other Bill

      Excellent point, Z. I suspect it’s illegal even if it’s ethical.

      “The Federal Fair Housing Acts (42 U.S. Code §§ 3601-3619) prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status (having children), and physical or mental disability (including alcoholism and past drug addiction). In addition, many states and cities also prohibit discrimination based on marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”


      It’s probably also in the California Landlord and Tenant statute and doubtless a Pomona City Code.

      But you know what a free legal opinion is worth.

    • deery

      There is a roommate exclusion to the Fair Housing act, so it isn’t illegal:

      No doubt this is partly due to the fact that landlords, as housing professionals, are aware that the law prohibits them from posting discriminatory ads, while ordinary roommate-seekers are oblivious. But some of this is surely due to the intimate nature of the roommate relationship. Roommates share close quarters and often spend a good deal of time together. Things that might be important to a roommate-seeker — for example, whether the prospective roommate keeps a kosher kitchen or speaks Mandarin as a first language — would be both bizarre and illegal for a landlord to consider when renting to a tenant.

      My research also revealed that most of the ads expressing a racial, religious or ethnic preference were placed by members of minority groups who were seeking roommates like themselves.

      Which brings us to the 9th Circuit’s recent decision. In ruling that the First Amendment protects people’s ability to advertise and exercise preferences for roommates, the court brings the law in line with a view surely shared by many across all segments of society.

      The decision may look like a setback for civil rights, yet it also has pro-civil-rights implications. If we have a right to live with whomever we choose, then people in non-traditional living arrangements — unmarried couples, for instance — should be protected from governmental intrusion.

      • That’s because racism is constitutionally protected, as is racist speech. It still avoids the issue of whether the practice is ethical. It’s legal. It’s protected. So is lying, hating, and being a jerk.

        • deery

          It’s a close thing, but I think ultimately it is ethical. Can women ethically advertise to room with only women? Is that sexism? Can Jewish people advertise for other Jewish people who keep kosher? Can a person who uses a wheelchair only want other roommates who also use wheelchairs?

          I don’t see it as unethical, just foolhardy, as using such shorthand for compatibility is no guarantee for domestic bliss. But there no guarantees for anything, so I guess it’s a wash.

          • ‘Can women ETHICALLY advertise to room with only women?’

            Perhaps…. If you removed the word ‘ethically’, then absolutely.

            ‘Is that sexism?’


            ‘Can Jewish people advertise for other Jewish people who keep kosher?’


            ‘Can a person who uses a wheelchair only want other roommates who also use wheelchairs?’


            This isn’t some strange mysticism. Your tenancy laws have not yet reached the retardation of the Canadian system, and so you still have the legal ability to discriminate in your living arrangements.

            I have a thing for Asian Men. Is my sexual preference discriminatory? Yup. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. I know this may blow your mind, but not all discrimination is inherently bad, and this may be an example of one of the blurred lines in the differentiation between acceptable and unacceptable discrimination.

            • deery

              I have a thing for Asian Men. Is my sexual preference discriminatory? Yup. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. I know this may blow your mind, but not all discrimination is inherently bad, and this may be an example of one of the blurred lines in the differentiation between acceptable and unacceptable discrimination.

              Actually, it doesn’t blow my mind. That was my whole point from above. You are arguing with yourself.

              • Interesting… Argumentative progress! Success!

                So can we take a moment to think of this, from the perspective of specific performance…

                We’re at the point where I think we’ve agreed that you should be able to choose who you live with, but not necessarily who you say…. bake a custom cake for. Now I think I know where you’re going to go with this, but could you tell me in your words why you think the specific performance of, for example, baking a cake is materially different from the specific performance of renting out a room in your apartment?

                • deery

                  We’re at the point where I think we’ve agreed that you should be able to choose who you live with, but not necessarily who you say…. bake a custom cake for. Now I think I know where you’re going to go with this, but could you tell me in your words why you think the specific performance of, for example, baking a cake is materially different from the specific performance of renting out a room in your apartment?

                  You don’t have to live with the people you are baking a cake for? They aren’t banging on the bathroom door, yelling at you for taking so long. You don’t have to hear their lovemaking performance through thin walls. You don’t have to negotiate who is cleaning the sink and the toilets this week. Or deal with their relatives and friends coming over. That’s how murders happen, even in initially good relationships. I don’t want to think about what happens when you are forced to do it with people that you the.

                  If you advertise that you bake cakes for the public, then all you do…is bake a cake for members of the public. You can hate that particular member of the public, but it doesn’t change the recipe for the cake.

                  • I don’t think you’re looking at this honestly. I mean… “If you advertise that you bake cakes for the public, then all you do…is bake a cake for members of the public.” Are you saying that if they advertised services for hetero wedding cakes only you wouldn’t have an issue with it? Not to put words in your mouth, but I rather think that’s not what you had in mind.

                    No, I think you were closer in your first paragraph, pointing out that living with someone involves a whole lot more interaction with them, compared to say… baking and decorating a custom cake. And you’re not only right, but I think we’ve identified the real sliding scale, with everything else being noise: The amount of interaction. Sex is more involved than living with someone, which is more involved than being their wedding planner, which is more involved than baking a custom cake, which is more involved than say…. making a pizza.

                    And once we’ve come to that point, I think the difference between your opinion and mine is where we draw the line where we expect society or the law to force the interaction, We’ll force the pizza to be baked, but we won’t force the sexual encounter, we won’t force the living situation… I don’t expect the law to force a Christian to bake me a cake or plan my wedding, because I feel that it’s a petty cruelty… Much like their petty cruelty, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and I’d prefer not to reward bigots with my money. That’s my line.

                    • deery

                      Yes, I think you are correct, it is where one draws the line. I don’t think there is much of a difference between a “gay” wedding cake and a “straight” one. A cake is a cake. Bake it, slap some frosting on it, put a topper on it, and go. The process shouldn’t be materially different in either direction. But would I feel the same for a photographer or something else where there was a lot more artistic discretion involved and relied on ongoing interaction and discretionary judgment calls? Probably not, though it is a close thing.

                    • See I agree with you, it shouldn’t matter, but as someone not particular religious, I try not to dictate faith to the faithful. For whatever reason some Christians seem think that the cake is materially different… maybe it’s some kind of hoodoo magic that goes sideways by putting two guys in tuxedos on the top, I don’t know. But it matters enough to them that I think it’s beyond petty to try to force them into it.

                    • deery

                      I certainly wouldn’t trust any cake made by someone who hated me. So there is that. But I think the principle that if you are agreeing to serve members of the public offering a standard service, you must indeed serve *all* members of the public with that standard service is a principle that deserves to upheld.

                    • deery said, “I certainly wouldn’t trust any cake made by someone who hated me.”

                      Here’s one of the core character differences between people like you and people like me; you, and your ilk, automatically think that just because someone disagrees with you means they hate you; I, and other rational thinking people like me, do not think irrational thoughts like that.

                      I don’t hate you deery, no one bit; I just think when you approach some topics, you do so like an irrational airhead.

                    • The discriminatory bakers seem to justify their refusal to sell to same-sex weddings on the basis that would somehow be accomplices to the wedding, that they would contribute to speeding someone’s path on the road to Hell.

                      To which I say, it’s not like you’re selling prescription drugs or guns or something. You don’t need to perform a background check. It’s a cake. You sell it, and people do whatever they want with it, and you’re not responsible. Do the bakers refuse to sell cake to morbidly obese people? How many people who sell cigarettes and alcohol side with the discriminatory bakers refusing to be accomplices to “sin”, while absolving themselves of responsibility for the health problems of their customers?

                      Sure, some of them are probably actually vindictive. They just want a scapegoat for their problems and a reason to feel like they’re not pathetic, so they a brave passive-aggressive stand against the evils of… the out-group.

                      Alternatively, maybe they’re afraid that they will be divinely punished for aiding and abetting a same-sex marriage, in which case they’re not any more credulous than for believing that homosexuality is a divine crime in the first place.

          • Other Bill

            Good reason to be sure and make enough money never to need to advertise for a roommate or to need to become a roommate. Something I learned when my college girl friend kicked me out shorty after we’d graduated and she’d firmed things up with the professor she’d been shagging during our last semester.

            But the above line of cases really is the kind of judicial hair splitting that makes me want to become a libertarian. You can discriminate in renting out part of your house but not in renting out the apartment next door.

            Given your progressive bona fides, I’d have thought you’d have come down on the other side of this one, deery.

        • I personally don’t think was ethical.

          All they had to do was to “advertise” for a roommate and pick from the available choices or not choose the available choices; there never would have been any controversy.

          What’s more; I think if the inverse of the ad were seen, there would be a massive outcry of racism, it would have gone viral nearly immediately, there would have been a continual demonization of the students until their lives had been destroyed at that college and in that community. The exact same people that would have chosen to destroy the lives of a group of white students for a similar act will be the ones that will rationalize and justify the same act from a group of black students.

          As I said before, this shows how blindly ignorant some people can be about race, and how there are consequences for our words regardless of the legality of the words.

          • deery

            I think this is an instance where the inverse doesn’t work. At a predominantly white college, there would be no need to advertise for a white roommate They could merely do as you suggest, advertise for a roommate in the school paper, and be assured that the majority of the applicants would probably be white. At Hampton University, there would be no need to advertise for a black roommate either.

            But if you are specifically looking for a very narrow category to live/have sex/relationships with, why waste everyone’s time pretending otherwise? Personal preference should probably have free reign in those intimate areas. No one gets excited on OKCupid that someone only wants to date white people, or Asians, or whatever. I tend to think this is in line with that.

            • deery said, “I think this is an instance where the inverse doesn’t work.”

              I call BS! You know good and well that what I said would transpire if the inverse were done. Just the mere appearance as a racist black man is viewed entirely different in our current society than appearing as a racist white man. Maybe you could get some ignorant white college student to do a test for you (pick a college, any college) and post it on their Facebook page knowing full well (after you paint the grim possibilities picture) what the consequences are ahead of time, post it, give it a few days, and watch the fireworks; you think you can find someone stupid enough to risk the very probably destruction of their life?

              deery said, “At a predominantly white college, there would be no need to advertise for a white roommate.”

              That’s completely irrelevant to my argument, and I do mean completely irrelevant!

            • Chris Marschner`````````````

              In colleges not all housing decisions are made by the students. What if a white student asks the campus housing officials to place only white students in the dorm room with them? How would you expect that to be treated by school officials that assign dorm rooms?

              • deery

                Off campus housing decisions made by students about who will live among them is considered different than a third party advertising for the same. Roommates may discriminate, landlords (which the college functions as) may not (exceptions abound in this area). Though trying to remember dimly from my college years, my college did ask if I had any strong racial preferences when it came to rooming, so there might be an exception there too.

          • Rich in CT

            I think “POC Preferred” would have diluted any possible hostility (Even then, non-English majors being charged by the word can be forgiven for less-than-precise summary language). It’s a courtesy, so that prospective roommates are not wasting their time.

            My dad tells this story of interviewing for a position in the military. At the the end of the interview, he was pulled aside and told they were only going through the motions; they already knew who was getting the job. Federal law requires a competitive vetting process, so the military, bureaucratic-industrial complex puts together a “competitive” vetting process.

            Should people really have to adopt the government’s ethics punch-list, just to avoid being labelled “racist”?

            The inverse, that a white student would be trounced for expressing a similar preference does not really change the equation. The overreaction to such posts is itself unethical. As a practical matter, it is certainly risky to publicly express racial preferences.

            A polite model might be dating sites, which include racial preference as one factor among many. Such sensitive preferences generally do not show up on a user’s profile. Generally, neither do other matches show up, either. Thus the user may browse in peace, as his private preferences are not broadcast as he chooses who to contact. To show how absurd possessing a discriminatory preference, consider how intrusive it would be if it were unethical to express gender preference anywhere on a dating site!

            The issue is really preference versus blocking. Expressing preference simply helps both parties evaluate whether to respond to an ad or inquiry. Blocking, throwing out the inquiry without any other consideration but race would be unethical. A bit of critical thinking regarding all the evidence in the letter is not too much to ask. Racial preference might still be the controlling factor after a cursory evaluation, but failing to even think about the issue is the worst kind of racism.

            • pennagain

              Thanks, Rick. Glad I read all the way down first to save myself the trouble of stating the obvious: such-and-such “preferred” is the common wording of roommate ads I’ve seen. Backing up even further, describing the person(s) wanting the roomie in the first place, will also get the desired effect, such as “three studious POC women seek compatible roommate.” “Cauc m. Canadian will share apt. and things w/Asian guy.”

              I believe the ad was unethical and racist; not because it asked for a POC roommate, but for the unnecessary ONLY in the wording, indicating a reminder to all mothafuckin non-POC persons that they were collectively personally guilty of Jim Crow attitudes and practices in perpetuity.
              “POC roommate wanted” would have been sufficient.

  4. My family owns a small amount of rental property, and this discussion brings to mind a news story from a while back. There was a landlord in Winnipeg who had advertised a variation of “natives need not apply”. Was that racist? Absolutely was. Was it wrong? Sure was.

    But my hang up, as usual, stems from the government intervention. They fined this landlord half the price of the damned building, and threatened worse if he ever wrote an ad like that again. I think this was more of a message to others than it was for this guy, but that distinction doesnèt matter much to the fellow footing the bill. (And as an aside: Freedom of Speech really doesn’t exist here like it does in America, but you just wait a couple more years and a couple more damned gay cakes.) More and more restrictions are being placed on what a landlord can and cannot factor into a tenancy ad. There was a case a couple years back that found the language in a rental agreement that restricted pet ownership was voidable, and if that animal happened to be a service animal, the restriction wades into discrimination territory.

    Regardless, the landlord had said that he’d been in the business for decades, and he had been burned consistently by native families that destroyed the place, the damage deposit had not covered it, and even if he had gone to court and gotten a ruling, he couldn’t get blood from a stone. An experience, by the way, that closely resembles my own, although not with the consistency. It’s not that natives have a lack of respect property as some kind of racial trait, it’s that poor people tend not to respect property and natives in Canada are statistically poor. And so intelligent landlords will require things like credit ratings, references and interviews to attempt to get better tenants. It doesn’t always work, but it’s still better than spinning a roulette wheel.

    But now we’re coming to a new head: disparate impact. Because Native Canadians tend to be poorer, they as a group have worse credit ratings, and so they have a harder time renting a home, I see a reckoning coming down the pipes that has very little to do with racism and everything to do with economics.

    The question boils down to a rather complicated paradigm: ‘Should a person be able to take steps that with some amount of certainty protects their property, even if those actions have a disparate racial impact ‘ Or ‘Knowing that everyone needs a place to live, is it more important that everyone be allowed the opportunity to rent, regardless of factors (including the ability to pay) that would normally preclude them from doing so?

    What’s the difference between a tenancy agreement and a room mate again?

    • This is probably the most sensible and clarifying take on the issue I’ve seen yet.

      I like how the dichotomy at the end doesn’t actually hinge on race. The real decision is between people who don’t want poor people to mess up their buildings and refuse to pay, and poor people who need a place to stay. Of course, the dichotomy assumes that poor, sloppy people are going to stay poor and sloppy. That’s a fair assumption, but if we don’t challenge it, the world isn’t going to change, and poor sloppy people will continue to create reasons for them and everyone else to hate each other. It’s mostly the sloppiness that’s the problem, but it wouldn’t be as much of a problem if they weren’t poor, and they wouldn’t be as poor if they weren’t sloppy.

      Far from playing the blame game, I’m only interested in solutions. Here’s a pretty decent one:

  5. Wayne B

    Hmm, I remember going to the University of Arizona for a year and the fraternities and sororities were organized with one being a jock house, another associated with the Masons, Jewish fraternities and sororities, and another set up “to uphold the traditions of Robert E. Lee”! The one that I was was involved with happily had events with the Jewish girls sororities even though we weren’t Jewish ourselves. We just wanted access to the women.

  6. Wayne B

    I wonder what the three jerks that placed the ad would have done if an Asian or Dinesh D’Souza would have showed up? I know, technically he’s an Asian. Probably not interested in living with a bunch of ignorant undergrads.

  7. “White people always mad when they don’t feel included but at the end of the day y’all are damaging as [expletive deleted]…”

    Darn right I’m mad when I’m not included. I’m mad when people consider me a threat, because they should be helping me not be a threat. I’m mad when people write me off, give up on me, and shun me for disrupting the fragile little bubble of reality they’ve got going. To be fair, I am an eldritch agent of paradigm shifts and deconstruction, so they’ve got a point. However, I think safe spaces should only be a temporary crutch so someone can develop strength to face uncomfortable realities.

    Maybe I am a threat. Maybe where I am is a “dangerous space.” Maybe whenever you step out of your little gated community, where everything is artificially pleasant, you’d better watch where you go. Because I represent a culture that is grittier, closer to reality, and therefore dangerous to your ego, which is built on opposing me and scapegoating me. If that safe space is your permanent home, then I’ll frighten you into staying there, so that people like me will rule the real world without interference from you.

    …And this is how the Black Panthers feel. Even leaving my empathy skills aside, I understand petulant and vindictive people better than they assume I do, just from my own experiences and my Barren [sic] Blauschwartz persona, which wrote the above paragraph.

  8. Isaac

    Aside from whether the ad was ethical or not…I hope those students get a Black roommate who is a real-life Carlton Banks.

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