Sorting ‘misunderstanding’ from ‘malice’ at Smith College

***FOR METRO *** Smith College sophomore Oumou Kanoute is pictured on campus, on Friday, August 3, 2018. ÒAll I did was be black.Ó This is what she said as she tried to wrap her mind around the fact that someone called the police on her for eating lunch on her college campus. EDITORS NOTE: caption should read ( Boston Globe)
Boston Globe
Smith College sophomore Oumou Kanoute is pictured on campus, on Aug. 3

Now we’re reporting our every discomfort to the police

Sadly, Jeff Jacoby misses the point in his column about the recent racist incident at Smith College (“At Smith College: a misunderstanding, not an act of malice,” Opinion, Aug. 8). He posits that because no voices were raised, everyone was polite, there were no weapons, and no one used any racial slurs, this “minor understanding” does not deserve a second glance. Further, he suggests that the caller to campus police thought the person was male, as though that explains everything. Men make appearances at women’s colleges all the time — as professors, staff, friends of students, and yes, students themselves.

The “see something, say something” campaign, while perhaps well-intentioned, has created a culture where we feel the need to report our every discomfort, on the chance that our observations actually may uncover something truly dangerous.

A person sitting on a couch eating lunch is a person sitting on a couch eating lunch. The situation deserved the same treatment that a white person sitting on a couch eating lunch would have gotten, which is to say that the observer would have said to himself or herself, “Oh, it must be lunchtime,” and kept on walking.

Karen Van Voorhis


For those never deemed ‘out of place,’ it’s not our place to question black student’s reaction


As a white woman who attended Smith College (class of 1998), I never even had to consider feeling concerned that I looked “out of place.” Nobody would have called the cops on me for eating in a quiet space on campus, whether it was summer or not.

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Men work on campus. This student was not determined to be suspicious because the staff member misgendered her; she was “out of place” because she’s not white.

We, as white people, do not ever get to tell people of color that they reacted wrong to a situation. Period. Our entire duty is to listen to them, trust them, believe them, and take their concerns seriously.

Jennifer Martinelli

East Boston

Microaggressions take a measurable toll

Jeff Jacoby’s column about the recent incident at Smith College describes the type of everyday racism and discrimination that people of color, particularly black men and women, experience every minute of every day. Jacoby’s argument that the black student’s response was overblown, because she did not experience physical violence, ignores the fact that the negative impact of such microaggressions adds up.

Decades of research has shown that black women’s unrelenting exposure to toxic stress actually contributes to the premature deterioration of their bodies, leading to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates for black women and their children as compared with whites — regardless of education and socioeconomic status.


This was not just a misunderstanding. This was racism, and no form or amount of racism is benign.

Elizabeth Arend

Washington, D.C.

On a campus open to gender range, spotting a ‘male’ is not grounds for police call

As a Seven Sisters alumna, I have to protest Jeff Jacoby’s uninformed column regarding Oumou Kanote. Jacoby seems unaware that Smith College welcomes transgender students who may not present as female-bodied, so seeing a man on campus, or being unable to tell immediately whether a student is male, female, or otherwise, is by no means grounds for calling the police. Indeed, any employee who would respond to a male-appearing student as such still constitutes a problem for the college.

If Jacoby cares nothing for the rights of trans people or people of color, at least he must respect that Smith is a private institution with a right to govern itself. This incident came to light because members of the Smith and Seven Sisters community chose to publicize it, to hold our institutions accountable. We demand better than this nonsense from our alma maters, from society, and from our newspapers.

Kate Winick

New York

The writer is a 2007 graduate of Mount Holyoke College.