On Tuesday, July 31, Smith College police got a call from a staff member asking them to investigate a person who "seemed out of place" on campus. But when an officer approached the school common room, he just found sophomore Oumou Kanoute, who was eating her lunch on a break from work. News quickly spread on social media that the police were called on a black Smith student who wasn't doing anything wrong.
Amy Hunter, Smith's interim director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, confirmed in a statement that it had been a college employee who called the police, according to MassLive. She noted that the officer who spoke to Kanoute "found nothing suspicious about the student's presence."
Kanoute is on campus this summer working as a residential adviser and teaching assistant. Her Facebook post about the incident elaborated on the event and its aftermath. "I am blown away at the fact that i cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully," she wrote on Tuesday, and continued:
I wasn't making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black. It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith Collge, and my existence overall as a women of color. I was very nervous, and had a complete metldown after this incident. It's just wrong and uncalled for.
Kanoute captured two videos of her interaction with the campus police and shared them on social media, too. "We were wondering why you were here," the officer can be heard saying in the first clip. "I'm working the summer program, so... I was just relaxing on the couch," she replies. After they talk for a minute, the officer seems to say he's sorry for approaching her. Kanoute captioned the video: "Now he is apologizing on behalf of the racist punk who called the police on me for absolutely nothing."
Hunter told The Boston Globe that Smith College "does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form." According to the paper, the director emailed staff, students, and alumni about the incident on Wednesday and seemed to admonish the employee who called the police, writing: "Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community."
Kanoute has begun a campaign to get Smith College to disclose the identity of the staff member who reported her. On a Facebook post that has been shared more than 550 times as of this writing, she asked users to share her videos and pressure the administration to release the name so that the employee "can confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as a student."
A college spokesperson told the Globe that it is against school policy to disclose the names of those who call the police.
Kanoute also added that Smith "routinely outsources their summer security to the Northampton Police Department" and that it "was particularly traumatizing to realize that someone with a lethal weapon [...] might have been called to respond to the incident." However, Hunter said it was campus police officers who responded, and campus officers are not armed, according to The Boston Globe.
"No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions," Kanoute wrote on Facebook. "I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus."