Janitors and campus security officers at Massachusetts’ Smith College should be wary. As it turns out, simply doing those jobs is enough to get publicly shamed and branded for life as a racist.

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.

In the summer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black woman, was eating lunch in a deserted campus lounge when she was approached by a janitor and campus police officer, who inquired what she was doing there.

It didn’t go well: Kanoute left the incident near a “meltdown,” as she put it. “All I did was be Black,” Kanoute later wrote. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”

Of course, the liberal college rushed to judgment. The janitor was immediately placed on leave. Smith College President Kathleen McCartney explained:

“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias, in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.” Major media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNN blasted out stories decrying the alleged injustice.

For these employees, the consequences of being wrongly accused were devastating. Blair found notes calling her a racist in her mailbox and taped to her car. She received phone calls that threatened, “You don’t deserve to live.”.

The viral accusation was posted to social media on July 31, 2018, via Kanoute’s personal account.

“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,” she wrote. 

“All I did was be Black. It is outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College and my experience 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 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.”

More details of this story from AWM:

Kanoute’s post sparked backlash at the school. A janitor was forced from his job, and another employee was hospitalized for stress related to the racial incident. The student suspected the security guard who arrived on-scene was carrying a “lethal weapon,” which, fortunately, the guard was not.

Smith College is a women-only college that was founded 150 years ago. The school charges $80,000 per year for undergraduates to attend. Only about 6.6 percent of students are Black.

Now, Jodi Shaw, a former college employee, has resigned. She was asked to attend anti-bias training and did not like it.

“I ask that Smith College stop reducing my personhood to a racial category. Stop telling me what I must think and feel about myself,” she said. “Stop presuming to know who I am or what my culture is based upon my skin color. Stop asking me to project stereotypes and assumptions onto others based on their skin color. Stop demanding that I admit to white privilege and work on my so-called implicit bias as a condition of my continued employment.”

Sources: AWM, New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN

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