In July 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black woman and rising sophomore at Smith College, was reported to campus police by a college employee for eating lunch in a common room after lunch service had ended. The incident was another example of a person of color being targeted for police intervention for “Living While Black”— a form of racial profiling that continues to pervade all spaces of American life, including college campuses. The American Civil Liberties Union began representing Kanoute in September 2018 and helped her and fellow student-activists lobby for administrative reforms, many of which will be formally adopted by Smith College.
Among the policies the ACLU recommended as part of its representation of Kanoute, Smith College has agreed to:
- New guidance for college employees about when to call the campus police, which will supersede existing guidance; the new guidance emphasizes respectful dialogue -- rather than escalation to police -- when observing behaviors that do not rise to the level of a safety threat
- New “suspicious activities” policy adopted by campus police and training to be provided to campus police and dispatchers
- Mandated staff and faculty training on diversity and bias training, as well as a campus-wide conversation this semester with students, faculty, and staff on identity and inclusion in America.
“Oumou should never have been put in this position to begin with, and we are proud of her for making her voice heard and demanding change. The ACLU is pleased Smith College was receptive to many of our recommendations and is adopting new policies that will help address racial bias and profiling,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Carl Takei. “While this is a crucial step in the right direction, Smith acknowledges that it still has work to do regarding issues of inclusion and campus climate. We encourage Smith to work with student activists of color to make progress in these areas and listen closely to what students of color are demanding.”
The ACLU looks forward to following Smith’s progress as it implements the new policies. The ACLU calls on other institutions of higher learning to affirmatively implement these policies and make their learning environments more equitable, just, and fair for students of color. To assist student activists across the country, the ACLU has also published a “Living While Black on Campus” toolkit containing our model policy and strategies for activists on how to lobby college and university administrators.