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Smith College hires investigator after employee calls police on Black student eating lunch
Oumou Kanoute (pictured) was eating lunch in a common room at her university during summer break on Tuesday when a white cop arrived to ask what she was doing there
The employee who called police on a black girl eating lunch in a common room on campus during summer break has been placed on leave pending an investigation.
A statement from Smith College said the employee, who has not been identified, was not currently working at the college, and included a copy of the transcript of their call.
In the call, the employee said the student, Oumou Kanoute, 'seems to be out of place'.
Kanoute, an undergraduate student at the Massachusetts private college, was on campus working in a summer program as a teaching assistant and residential adviser.
As the students on the summer program ate in a dining hall on Tuesday, Kanoute decided to take her food to a common room and eat alone in peace.
Within minutes of sitting down, she was confronted by a white police officer who asked: 'We were wondering what you were doing here?' after entering the common room.
Kanoute, who filmed their exchange and put the video on Facebook, nervously responded: 'I was just eating my lunch.'
Later, the police officer calls back the dispatcher to let them know things are 'all clear', and no report would be filed.
'That was a student relaxing in the living room,' the officer said. 'They had lunch here. I guess and they decided to stay for a while.'
The cop asked Kanoute: 'We were just wondering what you were doing here' before explaining that someone had called to say there was a 'suspicious black male' who looked 'out of place'
Kanoute told CBS she no longer feels safe on campus, and wants the employee who called police fired.
'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,' she said 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.
'This shouldn't happen to anyone at all.'
Kanoute issued a statement on the same day, and said placing the employee who called police on her on leave was not enough to placate her, and demanded she be able to face the person who called the police.
'To Smith College: I recognize and appreciate the effort that you all continuously put into inclusion on this campus,' she wrote in an open letter on her Facebook.
'However, we must be intentional about addressing this racist incident and systemic racism on campus. Your response has been helpful, but it is incomplete.'
Kanoute made several 'personal demands' as a means of reparations. She asked for the name of the employee to be released - either publicly or just to her, and for a face-to-face meeting with the employee and representation from the school.
The meeting, she said, should be focused on 'reconciliation and acknowledgement of this wrongdoing from the employee and the college'.
July 31, 2018, 1:53 p.m.
Dispatch: Campus Police, recorded line.
Reporting Caller: 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 um 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.
Dispatch: Can I have your last name please?
Reporting Caller: [REDACTED]
Dispatch: I’ll send someone over and check it out.
Reporting Caller: Alright. I’ll wait over here.
Responding Officer: All clear. That was a student relaxing in the living room. They had lunch here. I guess and they decided to stay for a while.
The undergraduate student said she also wanted an apology - not only from the school, but from the person who felt they needed to call the police when they saw her in the common room.
'This process must precede any type of decision for or against punishment for this outrageous and racist act,' she wrote.
'This process must also be accompanied by beginning a mandatory campus-wide conversation and new school policy concerning racism, gender, and policing that centers the voices of students and faculty of color when we return from summer vacation in Fall 2018.'
Smith has hired the Sanghavi Law Office as a third party to conduct their investigation into the incident.
'The firm has extensive experience conducting civil rights investigations, including investigative experience at the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights,' Friday's statement read.
The incident took place at Smith College in Massachusetts on Tuesday. The college has hired the Sanghavi Law Office as a third party to conduct their investigation into the incident.
Smith College has enlisted the help of an outside investigator to review a disturbing incident where a black student was reportedly racially profiled and campus police were called on her as she sat and ate lunch on campus.
The unpleasant episode ignited outrage across the small college campus community and forced the university to examine implicit bias across the board after campus police approached the black woman, Oumou Kanoute who was said to look “out of place.”
Kanoute says a university employee called the police on her for the “crime” of eating her lunch on campus. The college sophomore took to Facebook earlier this week to the disheartening experience:
“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,” she wrote. “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. All I did was be black.”
The school was quick to release a statement.
“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while going about the business of their daily lives,” wrote Kathleen McCartney, president of the private Northampton women’s college.
“When we fall short of our responsibility to support our students, it is a particularly hard moment for all of us.”
Students, alumni and staff were equally frustrated about the ordeal and the university now has vowed to address their concerns about racism, and inclusion across the campus, according to the Boston Globe.
Kanoute said she had a meltdown after the jarring incident and she expressed her frustration with being racially profiled. “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.
Kanoute also posted two video clips of her interaction with the officer who arrived on the scene. He asked her what she was doing in the common room and she explained that she was reading and eating lunch to take a break from her campus job at a summer program. The officer said an employee had called out of concern that she was “out of place” and Kanoute noted that incidents like that are far too common.