Student demands names and justice after 911 called for eating lunch

Student demands names and justice after 911 called for eating lunch
Oumou Kanoute, a student at Smith College (Image Source: Facebook/ Oumou Kanoute)

Once again someone called the National White Person Customer Service Hotline, otherwise known as 911, to report the presence of a Negro who disturbed them. The incident occurred at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, a school dedicated to the education of women since 1871.

Oumou Kanoute is a student and teaching assistant at the school who decided to sit in a common area and have lunch. What happened next she explained in a Facebook post that has gone viral:

“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. 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. It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College and my existence overall as a woman of color. I was very nervous and had a complete meltdown after this incident. It’s just wrong and uncalled for. No students 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.”

Her story and video of the encounter where she is calmly talking to the police went viral and soon she was inundated with media requests and the social media fame. She posted a demand to the school administration:

“Your response has been helpful, but it is incomplete. I will be unable to move forward from this incident without the following personal demands –

  1. The name of the employee (confidentially or publicly)
  2. A private conversation between me, that employee, and the administration focused on reconciliation and acknowledgment of this wrongdoing from the employee and the college
  3. An apology from the school and the employee during that meeting – This process must precede any type of decision for or against punishment for this outrageous and racist act.

“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 College has issued the following statement:

Yesterday, Campus Police responded to a call from an employee reporting an unknown person who “seemed to be out of place” in a Smith building where the dining area was in use by the college’s summer programs. A Campus Police officer responded to the site and spoke with the individual, a Smith undergraduate student of color, who was on a break from her on-campus job. Campus Police found nothing suspicious about the student’s presence. 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. 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.

Update: We have received multiple requests to release the name of the individual who called Campus Police. Under college policy, any campus police records that are released must redact the names of parties involved. This policy recognizes the potentially adverse consequences of releasing identifying information, especially in those cases where doing so may discourage the use of this critical safety resource.

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