I write this article not to scare you or to make you paranoid, but as a guide, since I didn’t have anything like this for myself when I first moved into the dorms as a freshman. During my senior year of high school, I remember reading articles and seeing news reports about how at the University of Hartford, a racist girl was trying to get rid of her Black roommate by making her sick. I remember being horrified that this would happen to me but also assuming that if this was only one documented incident I had heard of, it must not be that common and I was safe. I hope that you never have to reflect on this list, but that it can be helpful to you if you do.
- Stay civil.
I am against tone policing of all kinds, but to be frank, when dealing with predominantly white institutions (PWI), you have to come off as the calmer one in the situation. This is especially true if the aggressor is a white person. This is no easy feat, but you have to stay grounded and make sure that anything you do or say cannot be used against you, otherwise you can also get in trouble. Anything that can even vaguely come off as mean or aggressive from you can be used by the person or PWI to justify the racism you’re experiencing.
- Document everything.
Take photos and videos of everything that happens. If they leave condescending sticky notes, rip up posters, write on things that belong to you, etc., make sure that’s documented. Try to have any conversations that you’re worried may go awry over text, since they can provide evidence. Try not to record conversations, though, because it can be seen as a breach of privacy (check your state’s/university’s opinion on this, though).
- Consistently tell friends, your RA or your parents what’s going on.
I know that I didn’t let my parents know until the very end and I never told my RA (unless she’s reading this right now, whoops), but I always talked to my friends and my roommate about what was going on. In a way, this made them hypervigilant of how she acted toward me/in general so it wouldn’t just be me saying that this was occurring. It also gave an opportunity for them as white people to confront her about what was happening, instead of me, in case this put me in an unsafe or further uncomfortable situation.
- Find spaces where your racial/ethnic/non-white identity is centered.
Attending a PWI, especially as a BIPOC student, it can be hard to find your place. Being in a stressful situation where you’re being harassed for your racial/ethnic identity can make you feel isolated and I would encourage you to seek out organizations on campus that center that part of you. In some cases, this experience can make you hate that part of yourself, so it’s important that you remember you should never hate any part of your identity, especially not because of someone part of a privileged group harassing you about it.
- Don’t be afraid to get a room switch (if you can afford it).
I know that this can be expensive, depending on where you go, but sometimes it’s necessary. If it’s something you’re able to do and the situation is affecting you too much or doesn’t seem like it can resolve, just do it. Even if you became friends with the other people you lived with, they’re not worth the stress that you’re experiencing and you can still hang out with them around campus.
What I experienced my freshman year was nowhere near as extreme as to what Chennel Rowe experienced at the University of Hartford, but it wasn’t something I’d wish on someone else. I was lucky that it was my suitemate, not my roommate, so my interactions with her were limited. Being outspoken and left-leaning probably added to the situation, but don’t get me wrong, I was civil the entire time. When she told mutual friends that if I didn’t like it here, I should go back to where I came from, I was livid. Eventually she moved out halfway through second semester because of issues with her roommate (surprise, surprise; she was also an overall mean person) and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I hope that you never have to reflect on this list, but that it helps in the case that you do.