Police call on black Smith College student ‘raises concerns’

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2018 1:57:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Smith College employee called police Tuesday to investigate the presence of a black student sitting in a common area because she “seemed to be out of place, ” according to a college administrator.

“This incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity,” Amy Hunter, Smith’s Institutional Equity officer and Title IV coordinator, wrote in an email to students, staff and faculty. “Smith College does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form. Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community.”

Oumou Kanoute, a teaching assistant and residential adviser for Smith, was on her lunch break in a Smith dining area when a campus police officer arrived and asked what she was doing.

“It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a women of color,” Kanoute wrote in a July 31 Facebook post, which includes video of her exchange with the officer. “I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”

Kanoute, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning, said in her post that the incident made her nervous, and while the responding officer apologized, she had a “meltdown” after the incident. Now she is calling on the Smith administration to identify the employee who called police so the person can “confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as (a) student.”

“This person didn’t try to bring their concerns forward to me, but instead decided to call the police,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook.

Hunter, who could not be reached for comment Thursday morning, wrote in her email that she had reached out to the student to offer support and will conduct an investigation of the incident with the employee, Human Resources and Campus Police. She also encouraged anyone experiencing bias of any form to the EthicsPoint confidential reporting system at https://www.smith.edu/about-smith/reporting.

“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” Kanoute wrote. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”


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