Smith College has enlisted the help of an outside investigator to review a disturbing incident where a black student was reportedly racially profiled and campus police were called on her as she sat and ate lunch on campus.
The unpleasant episode ignited outrage across the small college campus community and forced the university to examine implicit bias across the board after campus police approached the black woman, Oumou Kanoute who was said to look “out of place.”
Kanoute says a university employee called the police on her for the “crime” of eating her lunch on campus. The college sophomore took to Facebook earlier this week to the disheartening experience:
“I am blown away at the fact that i cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully. 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,” she wrote. “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.”
The school was quick to release a statement.
“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while going about the business of their daily lives,” wrote Kathleen McCartney, president of the private Northampton women’s college.
“When we fall short of our responsibility to support our students, it is a particularly hard moment for all of us.”
Students, alumni and staff were equally frustrated about the ordeal and the university now has vowed to address their concerns about racism, and inclusion across the campus, according to the Boston Globe.
Kanoute said she had a meltdown after the jarring incident and she expressed her frustration with being racially profiled. “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,” she wrote.
Kanoute also posted two video clips of her interaction with the officer who arrived on the scene. He asked her what she was doing in the common room and she explained that she was reading and eating lunch to take a break from her campus job at a summer program. The officer said an employee had called out of concern that she was “out of place” and Kanoute noted that incidents like that are far too common.