Oumou Kanoute is a student at Smith College. She is spending her summer teaching teaching chemistry to high school students as part of the college’s STEM program. Kanoute was reading and eating lunch in a dorm dining hall when a staff member called police on her.
“Today someone felt the need to call the police on me while I was sitting down reading, and eating in a common room at Smith College,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook. Her post about the incident includes brief video of her interaction with police, one of whom appears to apologize to the sophomore at the women’s college in Massachusetts.
An apology was issued by the college and it will investigate but will not identify the person who called police on Kanoute.
Smith College describes itself as “one of the largest of the prestigious Seven Sisters women’s colleges, Smith educates women of promise for lives of distinction.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kanoute, Who ‘Worked My Hardest’ to Get Into Smith, is a Student, But Was Teaching Summer Science Classes & Was Taking a Break When Police Were Called to Check Her Out. ‘All I Did Was Be Black’
Kanoute, a student, a teaching assistant and residential advisor, said a “white staff member at the school reported me to the police as a suspicious black male sitting in the common room.” The staffer called 911. Kanoute explained that “Smith College routinely outsources their summer security to the Northampton Police Department, so it was particularly traumatizing to realize that someone with a lethal weapon, and the full authority of the state of Massachusetts might have been called to respond to the incident.”
The cop says, “We were wondering why you were here.” Kanoute, in a polite and calm manner responded she was eating lunch. She had to go to explain to an armed police officer that she was teaching for the summer.
“So I’m sitting down minding my damn business when someone calls cops on me while I’m just chilling. This is why being Black in America is scary.”
The cop questions her. And then later says he was just checking because the staff member didn’t know who she was. And identified her as a “black male.”
According to her Facebook, Kanoute attended Westminster School, a private, coeducational boarding and day, college-preparatory school in Connecticut. There she was a stand-out academician and runner. She said she worked hard to get into Smith and the incident has her at once incredulous and frightened.
“This person didn’t try to bring their concerns forward to me,but instead decided to call the police. I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”
2. Smith College Offered Lengthy ‘Diversity’ Statements Beginning a Day Later Once Kantoune’s Facebook Post Went Viral
The first statement was issued by the college’s Interim Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity; Institutional Equity Officer and Title IX Coordinator, Amy Hunter which said in part that an 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.”
Kanoute, from New York, wrote the cop spoke with the Kanoute “a Smith undergraduate student of color, who was on a break from her on-campus job. Campus Police found nothing suspicious about the student’s presence.”
Hunter said the “incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity,” and goes on to say the college won’t “tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form.” Hunter siad she “reached out” to Kanoute and that she’ll “conduct an investigation of the incident with the employee, with Human Resources and with Campus Police.”
It took another day for the college president, Kathleen McCarthy, to make a statement.
It reads in part, “I begin by offering the student involved my deepest apology that this incident occurred and to assure her 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. It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work.”
But McCarthy makes it plain that while the incident will be investigated, the outcome will not be public.
“…the college is engaging a third-party investigator to conduct a thorough review of this incident. Although privacy laws preclude Smith from making public personnel-related outcomes of any investigation, I commit to sharing with you any recommendations on policies, procedures or further community training that result.”
3. Kanoute Wants Smith to Name the Person Who Called Police, Set Up a Private Conversation For Her With That Person & Institute Mandatory Campus Wide Conversation’
Her statement to Smith reads in part, “I recognize and appreciate the effort that you all continuously put into inclusion on this campus. However, we must be intentional about addressing this racist incident and systemic racism on campus. Your response has been helpful, but it is incomplete. I will be unable to move forward from this incident without the following personal demands.”
Kanoute wants the “name of the employee” in confidence or publicly.
Kanoute asked for a “private conversation between me, that employee, and the administration focused on reconciliation and acknowledgement of this wrongdoing from the employee and the college,” and an apology during the meeting but explains that importantly, “this process must precede any type of decision for or against punishment for this outrageous and racist act.”
Kanoute, who ran cross-country for Smith in 2017, also said there must be 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.”
4. Kanoute is Traumatized & Said The Incident Has Harmed Her & Incidents Like This, Far Too Commonplace Now, Make Being Black in America
Kanoute said the person needs to be confronted and “acknowledge the harm done to me as s student.”
“…it was particularly traumatizing to realize that someone with a lethal weapon, and the full authority of the state of Massachusetts might have been called to respond to the incident.”
She called on the college to share her video. It has not appeared on the school’s social media as of this posting.
This narrative where white people are calling law enforcement on black people doing every day things has increase with frequency and is now, at least publicly, a daily almost hourly trend. And while some of these episodes ave led to memes and catchy hashtags, the prevailing out-in-the-open racism and trend to bring in police by calling 911 or reporting on people living their lives as being potentiality criminal could have tragic consequences. It’s also clear sign that white Americans feel empowered to display racism publicly and act as citizen police when questioning the presence of a person of color doing something otherwise ordinary.
“It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a women of color. I was very nervous, and had a complete metldown after this incident,” Kanoute wrote. “It’s just wrong and uncalled for. No students 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.”
5. People are Outraged, Including Smith Alumni. Smith College is Among the Most Difficult Colleges to Get Into in America
Just try getting into Smith described as “very selective.”
“If you meet Smith College’s requirements for GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and other components of the application, you have a great shot at getting in. But if you fall short on GPA or your SAT/ACT scores, you’ll have a very low chance of being admitted, even if you meet the other admissions requirements,” according to PrepScholar.
First, if a high school senior’s GPA is lower than a 3.9, they might not want to bother applying. And about standardized tests? One must have an overall 1400 on SATs (out of a possible 1600 on the SAT scale) and a 30 out of 32 on the ACT.
From its admission web page one needs that over 3.9 transcript, letters of reference, a guidance counselor recommendation, a teacher recommendation, and teh all important essay the provides “evidence of a student’s ability to express herself in writing with nuance, creativity and a distinctive voice. Can the student form a thesis, provide detail and prove her point?”
So when Kanoute said she worked hard to get in, well, yes.
Smith alumni, many outraged but some not surprised, showed her support on social media.