The first thing you probably see as you swipe into Commons is the long “POC (people of color) table” which lays itself out in front of a room full of white students. Both lower-class and upper class students of color retreat to this table during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they also retreat to similarly personal spaces for school clubs and weekend parties. You may be wondering: why do many students of color and minority students maintain their own social spaces at Bates?
We can start answering this question by first recognizing that white people often dominate space on campus. Dominating space is different than being a proportional majority; it is the disregard and exclusion of minority students.
As a woman of color, I feel constantly displaced, even in my own dorm hall. The room across from mine recklessly hosts destructive parties which make me fear leaving my room. On countless occasions, I’ve opened my door to find a group of white faces a few inches away from mine.
These white students break off from their conversations with one another in order to shoot me dirty looks and watch me leave. In their stares, there is an aggressive reclamation of territory and a reminder that I do not belong in the spaces they claim.
This entitlement to space is largely orchestrated by white men who make the people around them painfully uncomfortable. Here are only a couple of many sexist exchanges I’ve heard from directly behind my door:
“Yeahhh man I’ve gotten so many girls wet this week. I can’t even remember any of their names, they’re all just faces to me.”
“Just go in that room! There’s so many hot girls you can do it with. Go in there and the fun is all yours!”
The “party room” is responsible for perpetuating a toxic culture that inherently fails to respect its neighbors. It is important to note that the people that live directly next to and across from the “party room” are all women of color.
One of these women, who is black, told me that she was once forced to sit in her room and listen to the n-word being repeatedly sung by white students while attempting to finish her homework. When confronted by this incident, the residents of the party room defended themselves by claiming that they weren’t the ones singing along with this word. If this is true, they still did not stop this incident from occurring in their own room during the party that they were responsible for throwing.
The aftermath of these parties show these residents’ refusal to share space with us and to be held accountable. On Sundays, our hallways are always littered with toilet paper, beer cans, and cardboard. In the past, lights have been pulled out from ceilings, vomit is left on bathroom floors, half of a toilet seat has been torn from its bowl, and mirrors are drawn on with makeup.
On one Sunday afternoon, I recall watching residents of the party room “cleaning” their own room by throwing more heaves of their mess out into the hallways and in front of my door. Obviously these residents are inconsiderate that there are other people living on their floor, but they also have an expectation that the janitors will and should be picking up after their destruction of property. The ability to so carelessly disregard others must root from feelings of self-entitlement and privilege.
The residents reject any forms of responsibility so they can fulfill their own interests. On Thursday, a party began an entire hour after quiet hours commenced. Quiet hours on our floor start at 12 am on a weekday; this is already a late time compared to other dorm halls. But the residents across from me were not concerned with rules; their party had to start at 1 am, proceeding into later parts of the night.
Those of us who needed to attend 8 am classes the next morning were disrupted by obnoxiously loud noises and unforgiving chants. When I awoke to this commotion and frustratingly struggled to fall back asleep, I wondered how some students gain the nerve to take up so much space, leaving so little for the rest of us.