Smith College proudly portrays itself as a progressive haven. Slogans featured on the university website urge students to “be prepared to push boundaries” and tout “an education as distinctive as you are.” But Smith’s commitment to “anti-racism” failed a crucial test. When an African-American student falsely accused several white working-class staff members of racial discrimination, the college blindly accepted her racially-tinged narrative, even in the face of much evidence proving the opposite.
The triggering incident occurred during the summer of 2018. A black student, Oumou Kanoute, reported that she had been harassed by white employees of Smith College while she was merely eating her lunch in a campus dormitory lounge.
“I am blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully,” she wrote in a social media post that went viral. “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.”
Kanoute went on to generalize her experience into a larger narrative about being black at an elite college: “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”
The problem with her narrative? It’s not remotely true.
As an independent investigation funded by the college revealed, and as even the New York Times has acknowledged, Kanoute’s version of events was blatantly false.
A recent article by Boston University associate professor Matthew Stewart succinctly sums up her false claims:
It turns out that she was eating in a cafeteria that was expressly reserved for children attending a summer camp. She then took her meal to an area that was also closed off for the summer. The cafeteria worker politely reminded her of these restrictions; Kanoute continued nonetheless, but the cafeteria worker did not insist she move and did not report her.
A janitor, whom Kanoute later accused of being a racist, was not actually on campus when the incident occurred. Another janitor, who called security when he saw her, was only following the policy he had been given in the case of trespass. The transcript of his call to security reveals that he made no remarks about her race, as she was dimly visible.
The campus security officer who then attended was not armed. No campus security personnel carry firearms. The officer in fact recognised Kanoute and apologised for bothering her, even though she was in an off-limits area. Kanoute recorded this encounter herself. Other claims made by her, and widely publicised in the aftermath of the incident, also proved to be false, including that the reporting janitor ‘misgendered’ her.
“In short,” Stewart concludes, “it looks as if Kanoute was determined to find slights where none existed, and to respond not only with exaggeration, but also without scruples.”
Despite the myriad holes in Kanoute’s account of “eating while black,” Smith College sided with her, allowing her malicious and vindictive narrative to take center stage. Smith College president Kathleen McCartney issued an immediate apology to Kanoute, telling the media “I begin by offering the student involved my deepest apology that this incident occurred…And to assure her that she belongs in all Smith places.” Meanwhile, the white workers who were merely doing their jobs, were put on paid leave and/or pressured to attend “mediation” with Kanoute.
Perhaps feeling that these workers weren’t being sufficiently punished, Kanoute took it upon herself to dox the allegedly racist Smith employees who were involved in the incident. She uploaded photos, email addresses and other personal information of a cafeteria worker who was working at the time of the incident and a janitor who in fact had not even been on duty at the time, labeling them “racist.” The workers received hate mail and death threats. Kanoute also claimed that the Smith administration was “essentially enabling racist, cowardly acts.”
Even after the law firm’s investigation revealed no evidence of racism, Smith pushed forward with mandatory anti-racism training for all its faculty and staff and pushed for them to attend “White Accountability” groups on zoom where they might discuss their racial biases. For supporting the egregiously false and harmful racist narrative put forth by a black student, Smith College deserves its place on the list of the Most Racist Colleges and Universities.