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A black Smith College student was eating her lunch when an employee called police

By Emily Williams Globe Correspondent 

The rising sophomore at Smith College was quietly eating her lunch in a campus common room when a police officer approached her Tuesday afternoon.

A college employee had called police to report someone who “seemed out of place” in a Smith building that was being used for a summer program. But when campus police arrived, they found a Smith student, taking a break from her campus job.

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There was “nothing suspicious about the student’s presence,” the school said in a statement released Wednesday about the incident, the latest example of police being called to investigate black people in everyday situations.

In two posts to Facebook on Tuesday, the woman identified herself as the student in question. She wrote that a white college employee had reported her to the police as a “suspicious black male.”

“I am blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully,” she wrote in one post. “I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”

The student was working on campus this summer as a teaching assistant and residential adviser, according to her Facebook page.

“It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color,” she wrote. The student did not respond to requests for comment.

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Amy Hunter, the college’s interim director of diversity and inclusion, said the school “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,” she wrote in a message sent to students, faculty, staff, and alumni Wednesday morning, said Samuel Masinter, a college spokesman.

The school, a private women’s college of about 2,500 students in Northampton, is investigating the incident with campus police, Hunter wrote.

A campus police officer responded to the call. Police officers at Smith are not armed.

In another Facebook post, the student wrote that she wants to know who called the police so that he or she can “confront and acknowledge the harm done to me as a student.” She encouraged her Facebook followers to pressure college administrators to release the caller’s identity. By late Wednesday afternoon, her post had been shared more than 950 times.

Releasing the name of the caller would violate the school’s policy, Masinter said. The college removes personal information about involved parties before police records are released, he said.

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In a similar episode in May, Lolade Siyonbola, a black Yale University graduate student, was taking a nap in a dorm common room when a white student called the police about her. In a video Siyonbola recorded on her phone when police arrived, an officer tells her a caller had reported that someone in the building appeared “to be where they weren’t supposed to be.”

Smith is known for its commitment to racial diversity. But in August 2016, controversy arose around two leaked letters in which faculty members criticized the school’s social work program for its efforts to increase diversity.

A department chair at the time, Dennis Miehls, wrote that the school had admitted students who “do not have a reasonable chance of success in our program.” Another letter, signed by an anonymous group of adjunct professors, made a similar argument.

Students were angered by the letters, which they felt dismissed students’ concerns about racism and questioned the academic qualifications of students of color. Students staged a rally, a sit-in, and a march in protest, the Globe reported.

Smith’s office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity has plans to expand its existing anti-bias training this year. Those plans were in place before Tuesday’s incident, Masinter said.


Emily Williams can be reached at emily.williams@globe.com.