Oumou Kanoute, a student at Smith College was eating her lunch in the Northampton, MA university's common room on Tuesday when she was approached by an unarmed campus police officer who says, after exchanging pleasantries with the young woman, "We were wondering why you were here."
Kanoute, who was relaxing on a couch during her lunch break (she works as a teaching assistant and residential adviser) was there because she has a right to be, of course. But that did not stop a Smith College employee for summoning the police on the young woman because they felt she was "out of place."
"I am blown away at the fact that i cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully," Kanoute posted on her Facebook page along with video of her interaction with the officer, who apologized. "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 is now pressuring the school's administration to release the name of the employee who decided to escalate a benign situation by calling the authorities. "It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a women of color. I was very nervous, and had a complete meltdown after this incident," she wrote.
In a statement posted on their Facebook page Wednesday, the school says the incident "has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity. 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."
The school is investigating the incident but says due to policy, they cannot release the name of the employee. "Under college policy, any campus police records that are released must redact the names of parties involved," according to school administrators. "This policy recognizes the potentially adverse consequences of releasing identifying information, especially in those cases where doing so may discourage the use of this critical safety resource."
What happened to Kanoute is unfortunately nothing unusual for Black women at elite institutions. In May, a Black Yale graduate student who was napping in her dorm common room had the cops called on her by a white student.
"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."
Refinery29 has reached out to Oumou Kanoute for comment and will update this story when we hear back.