Someone Called the Police on a Black Student Eating Lunch at Smith College

It's only the latest brush with police on a college campus for doing nothing at all.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Again with this.

A black student at Smith College says she was minding her own business and eating lunch in a common room at Smith College when an as-yet-unidentified staff member at the college called the police, sending an officer to check on her because she seemed “suspicious.”

Oumou Kanoute, who is working on the Northampton college’s campus as a teaching assistant and advisor over the summer, shared videos on Facebook of a polite encounter with the officer, who apologized for having bothered her. But she decried having become the latest person of color to end up on the radar of the police for no reason at all.

“I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black,” she wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions. I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”

In a statement, also on Facebook, Smith said it has reached out to Kanoute and would conduct an investigation. It also condemned “discrimination in any form” on campus. “This incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity. 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,” the post reads.

The incident seems to mirror another case at Yale, where a white student in a dorm called the police on a black student who was napping in a common room—one of a series of unnecessary calls to police that have gained widespread attention this year.

Kanoute has since called on Smith to release the name of the staff member who called 9-1-1, but administrators at the college have declined to do so, noting that its policy requires that names be redacted from police records. “This policy recognizes the potentially adverse consequences of releasing identifying information, especially in those cases where doing so may discourage the use of this critical safety resource,” the college wrote.

Update: In a letter to staff and students Thursday, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney offered her “deepest apology” to Kanoute and announced that all staff members at the college will undergo bias training and attend special workshops in the fall, that the school’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity will meet with police to discuss policy changes, and that a third-party investigator has been hired to look into the case.

“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their daily lives,” she writes. “It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work.”