Oumou Kanoute was just trying to catch a break—a lunch break to be precise. A rising sophomore at Smith College, Kanoute has been working on the campus this summer as a residential adviser and teaching assistant. On Tuesday, Kanoute was in a campus common room of the women’s college quietly reading and eating her lunch, when a cop walked in to investigate her presence there.
“I am blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully,” Kanoute wrote in a Facebook post describing the incident later that day. “I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”
An unknown employee had called the police on her, Smith College confirms, because she “seemed out of place.” Kanoute, who also shared videos of her interaction with a police officer, wrote in another Facebook post that a white employee had reported a “suspicious black male” to the police (in her Facebook profile photo, Kanoute is pictured wearing her hair closely cropped).
The incident immediately recalls another encounter earlier this spring, when a black grad student at Yale had the police called on her by a white student, Sarah Braasch, after napping in a common room. Braasch accused the student, Lola Siyonbola, of not belonging there.
Shortly after the encounter, Siyonbola told Good Morning America that “someone who uses the police in the way that Sarah used the police should be held accountable.” Braasch had called the police on Siyonbola and another black friend previously.
“There needs to be punitive measures for people who, you know, act out of racially motivated bias,” she said.
Kanoute echoed the same feelings in a post written on Wednesday calling for Smith College administrators to share the name of the person who called the police on her, so “they can confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as a student.”
“Smith College routinely outsources their summer security to the Northampton Police Department, so it was particularly traumatizing to realize that someone with a lethal weapon and the full authority of the state of Massachusetts might have been called to respond to the incident,” she added. According to the Boston Globe, campus police at the small liberal arts school are not armed.
On Wednesday morning, Amy Hunter, the college’s interim director of diversity and inclusion, said that Smith College doesn’t tolerate gender or racial discrimination “in any form.”
“Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community,” she wrote in a statement sent to students, alumni, faculty and staff.
Hunter added that the school had fielded multiple requests to release the caller’s name, but that the college’s policy prevents them from releasing the names of people on campus police records (the policy is so people calling for law enforcement aren’t potentially discouraged from doing so).
But as with many other incidents of racial profiling documented this summer, the experience has left Kanoute feeling shaken up and unsafe.
“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” Kanoute said. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”
The Root has reached out to Oumou Kanoute for comment.