Smith College student was not victim of racism, probe finds

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A black student’s allegations that she was targeted for “eating while black” at a private Massachusetts college were deemed unfounded, according to an investigation of the incident.

Oumou Kanoute, then a rising sophomore at Smith College, had claimed that all she “did was be black” when a janitor called security on her when he found her in a closed lounge in July 2018.

But a 35-page investigation carried out by an outside law firm found no evidence of discrimination, the New York Times reported.

The findings were issued in October 2018 but not widely reported.

The incident began when Kanoute went inside an empty cafeteria that was reserved for a summer camp program for young children, the outlet reported.

Since students were not supposed to use the area, a cafeteria worker Jackie Blair reminded her of that fact but then decided to drop the issue, the outlet reported.

A janitor, who was in his 60s and had poor vision, then noticed a figure in the distance eating in a closed-off lounge area of the cafeteria.

Kanoute is a former cross-country runner and the first in her family to attend college
Kanoute is a former cross-country runner and the first in her family to attend college
Boston Globe via Getty Images

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 outlet reported.

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.

A security officer then drove over and engaged in a polite conversation with the student, who recorded the encounter on video and later posted it to Facebook, the paper reported.

“It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith, and my existence overall as a woman of color,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook about the private, all-women school.

Kathleen McCartney
Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

Smith College president Kathleen McCartney called Kanoute to apologize and placed the janitor on leave the following day, the outlet reported.

But 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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