Elite College Student Gets Janitor Booted From Job for ‘Racism’ — Turns Out He Wasn’t Even There


An investigation into a black student’s allegations of racism, which upended the lives of several service workers at an elite college, found no evidence of bias, according to a New York Times report published on Wednesday.

The claims: In July of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a 21-year-old student at Smith College in Massachusetts, shared a post to Facebook in which she described being the victim of racial profiling while dining at the school’s cafeteria.

  • According to Kanoute, a janitor and campus police officer approached her and asked her why she was there.
  • “All I did was be Black,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”
  • Kanoute claimed the incident was part of a yearlong pattern of racial harassment she faced while attending Smith, where tuition plus room and board costs upwards of $78,000 a year.

The accused: Kanoute posted the names, photographs and emails of two Smith College employees to Facebook, identifying them as those responsible for racially profiling her:

  • Jackie Blair, who in the wake of the incident would find notes in her home mailbox and car window accusing her of being racist, was a cafeteria worker at the time and told The Times she earns about $40,000 a year.
  • Mark Patenaude, 58, worked as a janitor at Smith before resigning shortly after Kanoute accused him online of committing “racist, cowardly, acts.”

The school’s response: Smith College president Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute and issued a statement lamenting “the ongoing legacy of racism and bias, in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”

  • The janitor who called campus security was placed on paid leave for three months.
  • School officials acquiesced to the demands of Kanoute and her attorney to establish dormitories set aside for black students and students of color.
  • Smith College also announced anti-bias training for all staff members.
  • Additionally, officials promised the campus police force had been overhauled to be more culturally sensitive.

The investigation: Three months following the incident, a law firm hired by Smith to conduct an independent investigation could not find persuasive evidence of bias.

  • According to the investigation, Kanoute had eaten in a dorm that was closed for the summer.
  • The janitor had been directed to notify security in the event that unauthorized persons entered the area.
  • Patenaude, the janitor Kanoute accused of being a “racist person,” had worked an early shift and was not on campus during the time of the incident.

The fallout: According to The Times, workers at Smith College felt scapegoated over the episode, and for some, it raised questions concerning the school’s potential ideological blindspots.

  • “It is safe to say race is discussed far more often than class at Smith,” Smith College professor Marc Lendler told The Times. “It’s a feature of elite academic institutions that faculty and students don’t recognize what it means to be elite.”
By We'll Do It Live