Living While Black Smith College – An employee who called police on a black Smith College student who was eating lunch in a common room on the western Massachusetts campus Tuesday has been placed on leave, school officials say. In a transcript of the call released by school officials Friday, the unidentified employee tells campus police dispatchers that the student seemed “out of place.” Click Here to read more
The student, rising sophomore Oumou Kanoute, told CBS Boston she works at a summer program teaching chemistry to high school students for Smith’s STEM program and was reading in the dining hall of the Tyler House dorm Tuesday. Ms.Kanoute was about to experience an episode of Living While Black Smith College.Ms.Kanoute says”Next thing you know, I see the cop walk in with a Smith employee whom I’ve never seen before and the man said, ‘We were wondering why you’re here?” Kanoute said.
Oumou Kanoute speaks with CBS Boston on August 2, 2018 after a Smith College employee called police on her. Kanoute tells the officer she works on campus and was eating lunch and relaxing.
“Oh you’re just taking a break? You’re with one of the summer programs?” the officer responds.
Campus police found “nothing suspicious” about Kanoute’s presence, Amy Hunter, the school’s interim director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, said in a statement. A police report wasn’t filed because the officer determined the report to be unfounded, according to the school.
In the transcript of the police call, the employee who made the report tells a dispatcher, “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 he seems to be out of place … umm … I don’t see anybody in the building at this point and I don’t know what he’s doing in there, just laying on the couch.”
The dispatcher asks for the caller’s last name and says they will send someone to check it out.
“Alright. I’ll wait over here,” the caller says.
According to the transcript, the responding officer calls back dispatch to report “all clear.”
“That was a student relaxing in the living room,” the officer tells the dispatcher. “They had lunch here. I guess and they decided to stay for a while.”
Kanoute recorded the police encounter on her phone and posted video with her own text on Instagram and Facebook.
I am blown away at the fact that i cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully. Today someone felt the need to call…
Posted by Oumou Kanoute on Tuesday, July 31, 2018
“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” she wrote. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”
Kanoute said in the post that she was reading, not making noise or bothering anyone, and added: “All I did was be black.”
While she spoke calmly to the officer in the video, she said in the post she had a “complete meltdown” after the incident.
“It just still upsets me to just talk about it because I don’t even feel safe on my own campus and I’m away from home,” Kanoute told CBS Boston through tears. “I’m the first in my family to go to college. I’m doing this not only for me but for my family, for my ancestors.”
In a statement posted online, Hunter said the university “does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination” and that such behavior “can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community.”
Smith president Kathleen McCartney issued a public apology to Kanoute and assured her “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’s statement read. “Building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work.”
Ms. Kanoute’s experienced a Living While Black Smith College episode which made national news. How many other incidents go unreported?