A probe into an incident at Smith College found that a student who claimed she was targeted for being a black woman was not racially victimized.
“The investigation did not find that the evidence was sufficient to show that the Reported Party was discriminated against with respect to the Incident,” said the investigative report’s conclusion.
Oumou Kanoute, then a sophomore at the private Massachusetts school, claimed a racist Smith College staffer profiled and called security on her when she was eating her lunch in a closed lounge back in July 2018.
“All I did was be black,” Kanoute posted to social media at the time.
“I am blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully,” she wrote. “Today someone felt the need to call the police on me while I was sitting down reading, and eating in a common room at the Massachusetts school. This person didn’t try to bring their concerns forward to me, but instead decided to call the police.”
“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” Kanoute added. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”
The student also claimed that she was reported to campus police by the racist staffer as a “suspicious black male sitting in the common room.”
The findings of the investigation were published in October 2018 but not widely reported. However, The New York Times reported on the incident Wednesday, suggesting it will “not fade away” despite the findings.
The New York Post reported on the incident, outlining the 35-page investigative report and reporting from the Times:
The incident began when Kanoute went inside a cafeteria in a dormitory that was reserved for a summer camp program for young children, the outlet reported.
Since students were not supposed to use the area, a cafeteria worker Jackie Blair reminded her of that fact but then decided to drop the issue, the outlet reported.
A janitor, who was in his 60s and had poor vision, then noticed a figure in the distance eating in a closed-off lounge area of the dorm.
School guidance called for employees not to confront strangers on their own — so the janitor notified security about the person, who turned out to be Kanoute, the outlet reported.
The janitor, who reportedly later claimed he couldn’t tell the person’s gender because it was dark, told dispatchers that there’s someone “sitting there laying down in the living room.”
“I didn’t approach her or anything but he seems out of place,” he reportedly said.
A security officer then drove over and engaged in a polite conversation with the student, who recorded the encounter on video and later posted it to Facebook, the paper reported.
The investigation found that the janitor “had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for contacting the Campus Police, and there was insufficient information to conclude that the [janitor’s] stated reason was a pretext for discrimination on the basis of the Reported Party’s (Kanoute) race or color, in violation of the Policy.”
That call to campus police by the janitor who was deemed racist did not include the student’s race.
“I was just walking through here in the front foyer of Tyler [House] and we have a person sitting there laying down in the living room area over here,” he said. “I didn’t approach her or anything but um and 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.”
As noted by the Post, the janitor was placed on leave by the school over the incident, and Smith College President Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute.
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