Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Smith College police called for student eating lunch

While eating in a common area, the student was confronted by a police officer who asked her what she was doing there

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

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Northampton – A recent incident at Smith College where an African American student had the campus police called on her while she was eating lunch in a common area has drawn attention to issues of inclusion and identity at the university.

Sophomore Oumou Kanoute was questioned by the police after an anonymous employee reported an “unknown person who ‘seemed to be out of place’ in a Smith building where the dining area was in use by the college’s summer programs,” according to Amy Hunter, the interim director of inclusion, diversity and equity at Smith.

In a Facebook post, Kanoute recalls the incident, stating that she was “traumatized.”

“I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black. It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College and my existence overall as a women [sic] of color,” said Kanoute in a Facebook post on July 31. Since then, the post has garnered over 3,800 likes and 3,000 shares and has attracted the attention of outlets such as the Boston Globe and CNN.

In response to the incident, Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, has released a letter apologizing to the student. In the letter, she states that beginning this fall, the college will require all staff members to participate in anti-bias training. The Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, Human Resources and the School for Social Work will also all be working together to hold a series of workshops “for faculty and staff focused specifically on topics of identity, inclusion, bias-response and bias-prevention.”

Additionally, the OIDE will be working with Campus Police to strengthen the protocols they use to respond to calls.

Smith has retained for the Sanghavi Law Center to conduct a “thorough, external investigation” of the incident. The employee who placed the police call about Kanoute will be placed on leave until the investigation reaches an outcome, according to Hunter.

In a Facebook post on Aug. 2, Kanoute said that Smith’s response “has been helpful, but it is incomplete.”

In the post, Kanoute also wrote a list of “personal demands” required for her to move forward from the incident.

The first demand was that the name of the employee who made the call be shared with her, either publicly or privately.

Second, Kanoute demanded a private conversation between her, the employee and the administration that addresses the “reconciliation and acknowledgement of this wrongdoing from the employee and the college.”

Thirdly, Kanoute demanded an apology from the school and the employee during that meeting, which she said must precede “any decision for or against punishment” regarding the racist incident.

Kanoute insisted that the process must also be accompanied by beginning a “mandatory campus-wide conversation and new school policy concerning racism, gender and policing that centers the voices of students and faculty of color when we return from summer vacation in Fall 2018.”

According to MassLive, Smith will not be releasing the identity of the employee who placed the police call. It has released a redacted transcript of the call.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.

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