Racial Profiling Reforms at Smith College

Oumou Kanoute was reported to campus police for "Living While Black." She fought for change with the ACLU and won.

Oumou Kanoute, a black woman who had just ended her freshman year at Smith College, was enjoying lunch in a common room when she was reported to the campus police by a college employee. The employee called the police to report a person who seemed to be “out of place,” according to the transcript of the phone call. She was racially profiled for “Living While Black."

Kanoute took to Facebook after posting: “I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black. It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a women of color.”

Public outrage followed.

The Chronicle reported that Smith College hired an outside investigator to assess the problem. The employee who reported Kanoute for eating in the common space was put on leave and Kathleen McCartney, the school’s president, released a letter to Smith students to explain the steps the school would take in anti-bias training.

Three months after the incident, the American Civil Liberties Union began representing Kanoute to lobby for administrative reforms together. As a result, Smith College will implement many changes including:

  1. New guidance for college employees concerning when they should call campus police
  2. New “suspicious activities” policy for campus police and training for police and dispatchers
  3. Required staff and faculty training on diversity and bias, as well as a campus-wide conversation with students and faculty on identity and inclusion.

The ACLU will follow Smith’s progress and push other universities and colleges to enact similar policies. They also published a “Living While Black on Campus” toolkit with model policy and strategies that activists can use to lobby for change at their educational institutions.

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