A Smith College Employee Called the Police on Me for Eating Lunch While Black

Enrolling in Smith College a year ago was a dream come true. But rarely has a dream so swiftly turned into a nightmare. As I begin my sophomore year, I’m returning to a new slate of classes and to unsettling memories that I wish I could shake.

This summer, I was racially profiled — an all-too-common experience for Black people in America. But unlike most people who are targeted for simply existing in their skin, my story of harassment went viral.

It happened on July 31, when I was working on campus for a program that encourages high school girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I was proud to remain on school grounds instead of taking a full summer vacation like many of my peers. As the first person in my family to attend college, every moment at a prestigious institution like Smith was a reminder that my mother's hard work had paid off.

The day didn't seem different than any other. I headed into the building’s common room to set my belongings down and then went into the cafeteria to grab lunch. Eating on campus might seem like a typical student activity. But as a Black student, I received a familiar look of suspicion from a college employee who questioned my presence in the dining hall line as I began to fix myself a plate.

I was greeted by a woman: “You’re not supposed to eat here,” she said.

I informed her of the mentorship program I work for and offered to get my card to prove it. She then allowed me to go on my way.

But the employee apparently wasn’t satisfied. As I was sitting in common room, I noticed a man pacing by the glass doors. Soon he was joined by the same woman who had approached me as I was fixing my plate. The two of them, both white, whispered to each other as I sat on the other side of the glass, wondering what was happening.

A few moments later, I looked up to see the same man who’d been pacing outside the door now approaching me, this time with a police officer. My anxiety was overwhelming. I had gone from a 20-year-old eating a meal on her own campus to the subject of a police interrogation. In my fear, I prayed and tried to remain calm — and pressed record on my cell phone.

“We’re wondering why you’re here,” said the police officer. He was on the scene, he said, because I had been described as “out of place” and demonstrating “suspicious behavior.”

A few humiliating minutes later, the questioning was over. But the pain certainly wasn't. As I write this, I still feel overwhelmed with anxiety and sadness over what happened. I still struggle to leave my room. Walking into the dining hall to grab a meal fills me with dread.

I am one of many Americans who has been targeted by racially biased calls to the police, treated like a potential criminal for the act of “living while Black.” This everyday form of racial profiling isn’t only happening to people sitting peacefully at a Starbucks or checking out of an Airbnb. From Yale, to Colorado State University, to Smith, racism is also prevalent on the very college campuses that claim to be safe spaces. These incidents are being captured on cellphones, thanks to a younger generation that is tech-savvy — but also scared.

It wasn't too long ago that students like me couldn't even sleep in the dorms on a college campus like Smith. I find myself thinking about Otelia Cromwell, who in 1900 became Smith's first Black graduate. Otelia wasn't allowed to live on campus. Her legacy, along with incidents like mine, reminds us of the significant work still required to address the systems that tell us that we don’t belong.

Attending Smith College has helped me realize my dreams and purpose in life. It has also shown me that unity and visibility are important. First-generation students and students of color should know that they belong and deserve to thrive in a society that often tells them otherwise. I am deeply hurt by what happened, but also determined to make it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

To that end, I am using this platform to make demands of the college that I love. Among them is a call for Smith College to adopt new policies and training that address race and gender — including policies that improve how law enforcement officers navigate incidents like mine. 

I also demand that Smith take more steps to address the history of Black students and the school’s legacy of institutional racism. I want a more fitting commemoration of Otelia Cromwell. I want an examination of the racism that shows up in the naming of campus buildings. I want concrete action taken to provide affinity housing for students of color.

Most of all, I want a campus where hard-working students are never told that they are “out of place.”

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This is outrageous, was the President /Dean of Smith College notified of the racist situation?
Corrective measures must be taken with both employees, the police officer & the woman

Hillary Kruh

I admire you for your dignity and courage in the face of this outrageous racism.
Even though you know these people are profoundly ignorant and paranoid, it is hard
to stand proud as a Black woman, but you are doing so.

Thank you for bringing this out into the light of day!

Mary Carravallah

I am so sorry you experienced this. I am so very glad that you took the time to outline very specific action steps Smith College can take to resolve this in the future, and encourage them to implement these!

Bev from Notthr...

Thank you for preserving. If/when Smith complies, just think of the thousands who will be helped by your legacy

Terri Scofield

I am so sorry that happened to you Miz Canute. As an extremely low income, disabled 59 year old white woman I try hard not to whine about discrimination due to my age, physical condition and gender, reminding myself that I daily enjoy the benefits of white privilege.
Unless and until we recognize that it's all one fight, our oppressors will continue 2 keep the boot on our necks.


Living in the South, this occurs 'naturally' all of the time, however, this is supposed to be an institution of 'higher learning',(emphasis is mine!)!


-------- the trouble is that 50% of all black males between the ages of 16 and 36 have been arrested, convicted and served time in jail. for me to assume, that the black guy walking down the sidewalk toward me is a PhD holder, is absurd . . .


I am shocked by what you had to go through and so disgusted that I can hardly stand it--it is so WRONG!!!!!!!!!! I'm ashamed of the way our country has turned backward and I'm reliving an earlier time in my life when I witnessed terrible racism. I am sometimes ashamed to be white.


What the article purposly leaves out, is that the employee who called police (erroneously) reported a suspicious MALE. Smith is a WOMENS college, so a male sleeping in the lounge area would seem "Suspicious".
In this age of "if you see something, say something", the employee acted reasonably.
Keep playing that race card, seems it's the only one you've got.


Then why did they approach a female. Please take off your blinders.


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