Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College

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A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.

By Michael Powell | 24 February 2021

THE NEW YORK TIMES (WAYBACK MACHINE) — In midsummer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, recounted a distressing American tale: She was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there.

The officer, who could have been carrying a “lethal weapon,” left her near “meltdown,” Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that this encounter continued a yearlong pattern of harassment at Smith.

“All I did was be Black,” Ms. Kanoute wrote. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”

The college’s president, Kathleen McCartney, offered profuse apologies and put the janitor on paid leave. “This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias,” the president wrote, “in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”

The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

But they did not offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation.

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

Those tensions come at a time when few in the Smith community feel comfortable publicly questioning liberal orthodoxy on race and identity, and some professors worry the administration is too deferential to its increasingly emboldened students.

“My perception is that if you’re on the wrong side of issues of identity politics, you’re not just mistaken, you’re evil,” said James Miller, an economics professor at Smith College and a conservative.

n an interview, Ms. McCartney said that Ms. Kanoute’s encounter with the campus staff was part of a spate of cases of “living while Black” harassment across the nation. There was, she noted, great pressure to act. “We always try to show compassion for everyone involved,” she said.

President McCartney, like all the workers Ms. Kanoute interacted with on that day, is white. […]

15 Comments on Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College

  1. I don’t see any ‘battle’ here.

    Whites in authority did what Whites in authority always do today in such situations: they immediately capitulated and groveled, conceding something wrong happened — later when it turns out nothing wrong did happen, they move on to ‘Well, maybe there wasn’t as much to this as we originally thought, but we’re going to double down on the rhetoric and keep all the measures we put in place to make sure something like this (that didn’t really happen) never occurs again’.

    [In an interview, Ms. McCartney said that Ms. Kanoute’s encounter with the campus staff was part of a spate of cases of “living while Black” harassment across the nation.]

    That’s the president of the college talking — she’s an example of why you don’t want women in positions of authority.

    • ” … she’s an example of why you don’t want women in positions of authority.”

      That’s illogical. By this rationale, one could argue George Bush is why you don’t want men in positions of authority — or take your pick from any of a slew of stupid, feckless and evil male leaders in greater positions than the president of this university.

      The problem is McCartney, not women.

      • I gather you’re female; given this, and the fact you are entitled to your own opinion, it would be no surprise if your opinion differed from mine.

        My opinion is based on decades of both experience with, and observation of, women in positions of authority — so whatever your opinion of my opinion is, my opinion is not “illogical”.

        Women are naturally more empathetic than men — generally this is positive, and most men (including me) see it that way — but a remarkable achievement of the modern establishment has been the co-opting/hijacking of female empathy, especially white female empathy, which is then redirected to whatever cause is current: homosexuality, transgenderism, ‘people of color’, immigrants, refugees, etc etc (anywhere except toward white people generally, and white men in particular) — many of these causes are quite damaging to society.

        A recent tweet from Frauke Petry:
        [Die Kanzlerin kann zwischen privater Empathie und Staatspolitik nicht unterscheiden, wie schon in 2015. …]

        Here she perfectly captures the problem with Merkel: she apparently cannot distinguish between having personal empathy, and responsible decision-making as a politician — her 2015 decision to suspend the Dublin Accord and admit > 1 million migrants is understandable only from the standpoint of personal empathy; it was not responsible politics — I agree with another German on Twitter who said no one has damaged Germany more since WWII than Merkel.

        Similarly here, McCartney’s reaction was not one of a responsible authority figure — it was that of an empathetic woman.

        >one could argue George Bush is why you don’t want men in positions of authority

        All the above said, it’s also clear, as you rightly point out, that today far too many men are also a problem in this sense (and in other ways) — just as there are female exceptions, e.g. Mette Frederiksen of Denmark:

        “Denmark Sets a Target of Zero Asylum Seeker Applications to Protect Social Cohesion”

        • Saw this on Tucker Carlson this week. The student is an imbecile. No amount of education can make her a successful member of any reasonable community. She has no regard for the lives of those she slandered. McCartney the dean is of the same authoritarian ilk as Whitmer of Michigan, or Pelosi of DC. Just liberal lackeys doing the bidding of their masters.

          • >The student is an imbecile.

            Like most (i.e. > 50%) Blacks at elite/fairly selective colleges and universities, she is probably an affirmative action admit — the statistical distribution of test scores (grades are more subjective) allows for no other conclusion — e.g. every year, approx 15 – 20% of new students at Harvard are black — given how super selective Harvard is, there is simply NO WAY that is possible without massive affirmative action.

            Texas ‘solved’ this problem by declaring the top 10% of the senior class at *every high school in Texas* eligible for the Univ of Texas — this means kids at predominantly black and Hispanic schools, whose test scores are *significantly lower* than those of Whites and Asians at other high schools, are eligible — otherwise they wouldn’t be because their scores would not be in the top 10% statewide.

        • Merkel is a globalist and McCartney is an identitarian. Certainly your argument is not that all women share their political views. These women are not empathetic or humanists. Not in the least! They’re ideological tyrants. I’ve worked for both men and women and each had their strengths and weaknesses, which had less to do with gender and more to do with individual leadership and management skills.

          • ?

            OK, how about this then: my objection to women as authority figures is also *visceral and physical*.

            A graph of grip strength:

            Look at the graph — note that *the average 80 y/o man has more grip strength than the average female of any age* — it is not even close.

            What this means: if you are told behind door #1 is an 80 y/o man, and behind door #2 is a 25 y/o woman, and asked ‘Who has more grip strength?’, you should say the 80 y/o man behind door #1.

            What it doesn’t mean: you will always be right — it could be the 80 y/o man has COPD and is in a wheelchair on supplemental oxygen, while the 25 y/o woman is a weightlifting gold medalist from Bulgaria (some people need such clarifications; apologies if you are not one of them).

            Sorry, but I do not see women as authority figures and do not want them in such roles in society — and I have given good reasons for that.

            • Wow. Never would’ve guessed anyone would seriously use muscular strength as an argument for better leadership. That’s a very Russian mentality, as evidenced by Putin’s photo spreads for magazines.

              And now I better understand how the verbally challenged actor and body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger got elected governor of California. It was no surprise voters later ousted him.

              Fact of the matter is that women can pull a trigger and push a red button just as easily as a man. And it’s also a fact that, on average, women have higher IQs than men. It’s probably evolutionary compensation for lack of physical strength.

              When leaders start solving problems via one-on-one wrestling matches, I’ll join your camp.

              In the meantime, I’ll acknowledge men make better warriors because of their potential for brute strength. Different metrics are required for good leadership.

              Enough said.

              • I agree, males and females are both capable of goodness and evil. The system has been rigged in a concealed kind of way and now all pretenses are gone. There is a consolidation of power by social media, the press, Hollywood, sports and entertainment , behind the globalist agenda. This birdbrain students life is destroyed as its celebrated by the Left. This campus will continue to spew the next generation of Hillary Clinton types for sure. Glad for this website in its effort to scower the earth for truth.

              • >muscular strength as an argument for better leadership

                I said I had a ‘visceral’ objection to females as authority figures due to the huge difference in physical strength between men and women; in that comment I did not really talk about the quality of “leadership”, which is something different — I addressed the quality of “leadership” in the previous comment when I mentioned the influence of natural female empathy on decision-making — note these are really two different things.

                You seem to have a tendency to grasp at straw men when confronted with an opinion you don’t like — this is a kind of emotional reaction, and in my experience is seen more often in women.

              • >only objection

                But it isn’t my “only objection”, as I made clear in an earlier comment here.

                You ‘might try’ learning to read … and think before writing a comment.

  2. Amazing that people can’t keep their eye on the ball. This story is about the tyranny of identity politics and the ridiculous lengths administrators are expected to go to to appease the mobs . “Don’t upset the rich kids.” Male CEOs are making the same mistakes. Business, universities and politicians that rely on money/support from Gen Z/Millenials are now bowing or kneeling to the cult of Marxism out of fear of economic repercussions.

    Fundamentally, the leadership of the university is its executive board, or board of trustees. The president is an administrator who is appointed and may be removed by the board at any time.

    • >Amazing that people can’t keep their eye on the ball.

      ? — the “ball” here is the reaction of, and decision-making by, administrators when something like this happens — personal integrity and strength of character would help them resist ‘appeasing the mob’ should their reactions/decisions be unpopular with the ‘mob’.

      >Male CEOs are making the same mistakes.

      No one said they weren’t — in fact, as I said/admitted, too many men are also a problem in this regard.

      >Fundamentally, the leadership of the university is its executive board, or board of trustees.

      Maybe formally, but not *operationally*, and in the proximate aftermath of such an incident the reaction and decision-making of administrators in their operational capacities is the issue here.

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