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Martin Center column explores ‘appalling’ Smith College case

Lee Trepanier writes for the Martin Center about a disturbing set of events at an elite college.

An unfolding case at Smith College shows how the obsession with race can blind administrators to facts and lead them to act in ways that harm innocent people.

In 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a black student at Smith College, claimed that she was harassed by a janitor and police officer who had accused her of trespassing while eating inside a dormitory lounge. The story went viral with coverage from CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and the American Civil Liberties Union came to her assistance, claiming that she had been targeted for “eating while black.”

Because of the publicity, the officer and the janitor were branded as racists. Kanoute received a formal apology from Smith College’s president, Kathleen McCartney. In it, McCartney wrote how troubled she was at hearing that “people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”

But the story Kanoute told was not accurate, as we learn from this New York Times article published in February. We read that Smith College hired a law firm to investigate the episode and, after three months, the law firm concluded that Kanoute’s claims were false and there was no evidence of pervasive bias against black students on campus. The truth was that she was trespassing—the dormitory in which she ate lunch was closed to students for the summer. The janitor, therefore, had every reason to call security, and the officer who showed up was unarmed—contrary to Kanoute’s claims—and apologized for bothering the student. No evidence of racism was found in either the janitor’s or the officer’s behavior.

All that was left was Kanoute’s claims of “implicit bias” and a yearlong “pattern of discrimination.” The investigation found no proof of that either.

President McCartney offered no public apology to the officer, janitor, and other Smith employees whose lives were wrecked by the false accusation of racism.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...