A Smith College employee called the police on a black student who was eating lunch in a common area because she “seemed to be out of place,” the school said.
The student, Oumou Kanoute, is working at Smith College as a teaching assistant and residential adviser over the summer. She said she was taking a break from work on Tuesday when a police officer approached her and asked why she was there.
“I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone,” Kanoute wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post. “All I did was be black.”
Smith College announced on Friday that the employee has been placed on leave. It also released a transcript of the employee’s call to the police.
“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,” the caller said. “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.”
Kanoute said the incident made her “nervous” and caused her emotional distress.
“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.”
Smith College said in a statement that the officer who responded to the call found nothing suspicious.
A third party is investigating the incident, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said in a statement on Thursday.
Every staff member will participate in mandatory anti-bias training starting this fall, McCartney said. The school also plans to hold anti-bias workshops for faculty and staff.
“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,” Title IX coordinator Amy Hunter said Wednesday in a statement.
Kanoute wrote a second Facebook post on Wednesday asking for support for her request to the school administration to release the name of the employee who reported her to the police.
“I demanded that the administration share the name of the person who made the 9-1-1 call so that they can confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as [a] student,” Kanoute said.
The post has received more than 900 shares as of Friday. Smith College said it has received multiple requests to release the name of the complainant, but school policy prohibits the release of names in campus police records.
Kanoute added in a post written Thursday that she would like to receive a formal apology from the employee.
Similar incidents of police being called on black people while doing everyday activities have increasingly dominated the news as individuals film the racist incidents.
A white woman whom the internet dubbed “Barbecue Becky” called the cops on a black family barbecuing in Oakland, California, in April. In May, a black student at Yale University was napping in a common area when a white student called the police on her.
Last month, a woman who stopped to give some supplies to a homeless man outside of a California grocery store had the police called on her for suspected shoplifting.
The story has been updated with new statements from McCartney and the transcript of the police call.