An Employee At Smith College Called Police On A Black Student Who Was Eating Lunch On Campus

"All I did was be black," Oumou Kanoute, a student at Smith College, wrote on Facebook.

An employee at a Massachusetts college called police on a black student who was eating lunch on campus Tuesday because she "seemed to be out of place," school officials said.

Oumou Kanoute, a student at Smith College, recorded videos of the encounter and wrote about it in a post on Facebook, saying she was "blown away at the fact that i cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully."

Kanoute, who is working as a teaching assistant and residential adviser this summer, said she didn't do anything wrong and wasn't making any noise or bothering anyone.

"All I did was be black," she said.

"We were wondering why you're here," an officer says to Kanoute in one of the videos.

"I was eating lunch. I'm working the summer program, so I was just relaxing on the couch," Kanoute responds.

In a statement Wednesday, Amy Hunter, interim director of the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity at Smith College, said an employee reported Kanoute as an unknown person who "seemed to be out of place" in a building that houses a dining area used by the college's summer programs.

Campus police responded and "found nothing suspicious about the student's presence," Hunter said, adding that she will be conducting an investigation into the incident.

"This incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity," she said. "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."

On Thursday, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute in a letter to the campus community and offered assurance that "she belongs in all Smith spaces."

"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," McCartney wrote. "It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work."

On Friday, the college released a transcript of the 911 call made by the employee, who has since been placed on leave pending an investigation by an outside law firm.

Here's the full transcript released by Smith College:

July 31, 2018, 1:53 p.m.

Dispatch: Campus Police, recorded line.

Reporting Caller: I was just walking through here in the front foyer of [REDACTED] and we have a person sitting there laying down in the living room area over here. I didn’t approach her or anything but um he seems to be out of place … umm … I don’t see anybody in the building at this point and uh I don’t know what he’s doing in there just laying on the couch.

Dispatch: Can I have your last name please?

Reporting Caller: [REDACTED]

Dispatch: I’ll send someone over and check it out.

Reporting Caller: Alright. I’ll wait over here.

Unit Clears

Responding Officer: All clear. That was a student relaxing in the living room. They had lunch here. I guess and they decided to stay for a while.

Dispatch: Received.

Kanoute said she appreciated the college's response but said it was "incomplete," adding that she would like to know the name of the employee who called police, have a conversation with the employee and administrators "focused on reconciliation and acknowledgement of this wrongdoing," and get an in-person apology from the school and the employee.

"It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color," Kanoute said.

She continued that students of color should not have to explain why they belong at prestigious institutions.

"I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus," Kanoute said.


This post has been updated with the 911 call transcript, information about the employee being placed on leave, and the external investigation.

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