OUMOU Kanoute, a former student at Smith College, claims she was racially profiled while eating lunch in a dorm lounge after a janitor called campus police on her.
Kanoute claims the incident, which she described as “eating while Black,” occurred on July 31, 2018, during her sophomore year.
Who is Oumou Kanoute and what did she accuse Smith College of?
According to her Linkedin page, Kanoute attended Smith College from 2017-2021, where she obtained her Bachelor's degree.
She is reportedly a research intern assistant at Columbia University.
"All I did was be black," Kanoute wrote in a since deleted Facebook post about the troubling incident.
In the deleted posted, Kanoute captured on video the moment someone off-camera approaches her and asks her what she’s doing in the room.
“Well, I was eating lunch, I’m working the summer program,” she responds calmly, her voice shaking slightly. “I was just relaxing on the couch.”
In her post, Kanoute wrote that she’s working at the school over the summer as a teaching assistant and resident adviser.
“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.
“I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone,” she added.
Kanoute said it was “outrageous” that someone would question her presence at the school based on her race.
“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 the racist staff member reported her as a “suspicious black male sitting in the common room.”
Another video she posted shows an unarmed campus police officer apologizing to her about the situation.
“It’s OK,” she says. “It’s just like, the kind of stuff like this happens way too often, where people just feel threatened.”
What has Smith College said about the allegations?
Smith College's president, Kathleen McCartney, offered profuse apologies to Kanoute and placed the janitor on paid leave.
"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 ordinary lives," McCartney said in a statement.
"At Smith College, our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence.
"Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment.
" Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere," McCartney added.
What did an investigation determine about the incident?
An investigation carried out by an outside law firm found no evidence of discrimination.
The findings were issued in October 2018, but were not widely reported.
At the time of the incident, the janitor – who was in his 60s and had poor vision – noticed a figure in the distance eating in a closed-off lounge area of the cafeteria.
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 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.
The subsequent investigation found that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and that the janitor was following policy.
“Based on this information, the investigation determined that the Caller’s had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for believing it was ‘out of place’ for a person to be in the Tyler living room,” the report said.
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