Smith College student questioned by police speaks out on being racially profiled at her school
Oumou Kanoute, a sophomore at Smith Collegeexperienced the heart-wrenching pain that has become commonplace for so many Black folks when she was approached by police as she sat in the dining hall of her college trying to eat a meal over the summer
Kanoute detailed her harrowing July 31 experience in a blog for the ACLU. She said she was racially profiled by an employee and had the police called on her. What was a proud moment for her working on campus for a STEM program for high school girls, turned into one that she says has forever changed her Smith College experience.
Kanoute said she headed into the building’s common room to put her things down before entering the cafeteria to grab lunch.
“Eating on campus might seem like a typical student activity. But as a Black student, I received a familiar look of suspicion from a college employee who questioned my presence in the dining hall line as I began to fix myself a plate,” she wrote.
“I was greeted by a woman: “You’re not supposed to eat here,” she said.
“I informed her of the mentorship program I work for and offered to get my card to prove it. She then allowed me to go on my way.”
She continued: “But the employee apparently wasn’t satisfied. As I was sitting in common room, I noticed a man pacing by the glass doors. Soon he was joined by the same woman who had approached me as I was fixing my plate. The two of them, both white, whispered to each other as I sat on the other side of the glass, wondering what was happening.
“A few moments later, I looked up to see the same man who’d been pacing outside the door now approaching me, this time with a police officer. My anxiety was overwhelming. I had gone from a 20-year-old eating a meal on her own campus to the subject of a police interrogation. In my fear, I prayed and tried to remain calm — and pressed record on my cell phone.
“We’re wondering why you’re here,” said the police officer. He was on the scene, he said, because I had been described as “out of place” and demonstrating “suspicious behavior.”
“A few humiliating minutes later, the questioning was over. But the pain certainly wasn’t.”
“This everyday form of racial profiling isn’t only happening to people sitting peacefully at a Starbucks or checking out of an Airbnb. From Yale, to Colorado State University, to Smith, racism is also prevalent on the very college campuses that claim to be safe spaces. These incidents are being captured on cellphones, thanks to a younger generation that is tech-savvy — but also scared.”
Kanoute not only feels pained but stained every time she walks the Smith College campus. She said she still gets anxiety when she has to enter the cafeteria.
Smith College has retained the Sanghavi Law Office to conduct “a thorough, external investigation.” Administrators have also confirmed that the employee who racially profiled Kanoute has been suspended.
According to the NY Daily News, Smith College president Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute and ordered anti-bias training for all employees.
The name of the employee has not yet been released.