Smith College Employee Calls Police on Black Student Eating Lunch Because She ‘Seemed Out of Place’

A college employee called the police on a black student at Smith College while she was eating her lunch on Tuesday because she “seemed out of place.”

The student, Oumou Kanoute, posted two videos on Facebook on Tuesday. Kanoute said the employee from the women’s private college in Northampton, Massachusetts, had called the police on her while she was eating lunch in a campus common room on Tuesday afternoon.

In one of the videos, a police officer can be heard asking Kanoute why she was in the common room. Kanoute, a teaching assistant and residential adviser at the college, explains to the officer that she is involved in the school’s summer program and was taking a break to eat lunch in the common room.

“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,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook. “This person didn't try to bring their concerns forward to me, but instead decided to call the police.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 2 The Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts. A white employee at the college called the police on a black student eating lunch in a campus common room on Tuesday because she "seemed out of place." Google Maps/Screenshot

Kanoute wrote that the police apologized to her for the call. The two videos have been viewed over a combined total of over 168,000 views and her post has been shared over 1,600 times on Facebook.

“I did nothing wrong, I wasn't making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black,” Kanoute wrote. “It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a women of color.”

Amy Hunter, the interim director of inclusion, wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the college “does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form.”

“This incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity. Smith College does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form. Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community,” the statement read. “I have reached out to the student to offer support and discuss next steps, and will conduct an investigation of the incident with the employee, with Human Resources and with Campus Police.”

Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College, released a statement on Thursday apologizing to Kanoute and said she wants to "assure her that she belongs in all Smith spaces." McCartney also noted that the college has hired a third-party investigator to review the incident.

"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," the statement sent to Newsweek read. "It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work."

Kanoute had said she experienced a “complete meltdown” since the incident and has become very nervous on campus. In a separate Facebook post Kanoute wrote on Wednesday, she asked the college to release the name of the person who made the 911 call “so that they can confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as a student.”

“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.

In May, a white student at Yale called the cops on a black student sleeping in a common room area on the college campus. Yale graduate student Lolade Siyonbola captured the video of campus police officers asking her questions after Sarah Braasch called the police on her while she was sleeping.

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