Tags: smithcollege | student | racism | elite

Racist Label Lingers for Elite College Employees Despite Being Cleared

Racist Label Lingers for Elite College Employees Despite Being Cleared
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By    |   Thursday, 25 February 2021 06:17 PM

A former college cafeteria worker cleared of committing racial discrimination continued to suffer from the accusation, it was reported Wednesday.

Jackie Blair, who worked at elite Smith College in Massachusetts, was among several people accused of discriminating against a black female student in 2018.

An independent investigation cleared everyone involved. Blair, however, continued to feel the effects of the case.

She began receiving notes at home accusing her of being racist following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis last May, and as someone who suffers from lupus, she was hospitalized last year after stress exacerbated the condition.

Blair was furloughed by Smith College due to the pandemic, and has had trouble finding a job. One interview at a restaurant resulted in the manager recognizing her from the Smith College incident.

"What do I do?" Blair asked a New York Times reporter. "When does this racist label go away?"

The Smith College student, Oumou Kanoute, accused Blair and janitor Mark Patenaude of being racists. 

Kanoute, who is black, reportedly was seen dining at a campus cafeteria in July 2018 when it was reserved for a summer camp for young children. Blair told Kanoute student workers were not supposed to use the cafeteria that day but didn't enforce the rule.

The Times reported Smith College staff members were concerned about being reported by students at the elite school, where tuition costs about $78,000 annually.

"We used to joke, don't let a rich student report you, because if you do, you're gone," Patenaude said, according to the Times.

Kanoute ate in the lounge of a closed dormitory. Because campus police had advised staff to contact security if strangers were seen in the closed-off area, a janitor in his 60s with poor vision called security after seeing someone. He did not mention Kanoute's race or sex.

Kanoute later accused him of "misgendering" her.

An older campus security officer arrived, spoke with Kanoute, and apologized for bothering her, the Times reported. The student said she felt "threatened," and later wrote on Facebook that "It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith, and my existence overall as a woman of color."

Smith College president Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute for the incident. Without speaking to the accused employees, the president put the janitor on paid leave that day, according to the Times.

Reporters began emailing Blair asking for comment about why she called security on Kanoute for "eating while black."

Kanoute posted Blair's photograph, name, and contact information on Facebook, with the caption "This is the racist person."

"Oh my God, I didn't do this," Blair told a friend, according to the Times. "I exchanged a hello with that student and now I'm a racist."

Although he was not working at the time of the incident, Patenaude also was included in the post and labeled a racist.

The college released a statement informing students Blair did not call security, and McCartney briefly apologized to the cafeteria worker, although the apology was not made public, per the Daily Caller.

Months later, a report conducted by a law firm that specializes in discrimination investigations cleared all of the employees involved in the incident, and found no evidence of discrimination.

McCartney said the report didn't rule out "the potential role of implicit racial bias."

Patenaude left his job at Smith College not long after Kanoute called him a racist.

"I don’t know if I believe in white privilege," Patenaude told the Times. "I believe in money privilege."

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A former college cafeteria worker cleared of committing racial discrimination continued to suffer from the accusation, it was reported Wednesday.
smithcollege, student, racism, elite
Thursday, 25 February 2021 06:17 PM
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