Smith College and the Failing Liberal Bargain

But the narrative of racist harassment of a minority student at an elitist white institution turned out to be comprehensively false.

“A law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias,” Powell writes. “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.”

In fact, the real victims of the event lay elsewhere. Kanoute publicly accused a janitor named Mark Patenaude and a cafeteria worker named Jackie Blair of “racist cowardly acts.” But neither of them was involved in calling campus security. Kanoute also posted their photographs and email addresses. The stress triggered flare-ups of lupus for Blair and anxiety attacks for Patenaude, who has since left his job. (Kanoute later apologized for misidentifying him.) One person called Blair at home to tell her, “You don’t deserve to live.”

As for the anti-bias training, Powell reports that cafeteria and grounds workers “found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive.” One courageous school administrator, Jodi Shaw, resigned from Smith in February on the grounds that it had become a “racially hostile environment.”

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