Opinion

The Media-Fed Race Hoax at Smith College Reveals an Aversion to Facts for Journalists

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Posted: Mar 03, 2021 12:01 AM
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The Media-Fed Race Hoax at Smith College Reveals an Aversion to Facts for Journalists

Source: Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

There is a curious inflammatory race issue taking place at Smith College, a 145-year-old women’s institution in Massachusetts. Recently, after months of battling with the administration, one employee has resigned and is going to take her issue to the state, and the courts. Jodi Shaw says the campus environment was a racially hostile workplace. Here is the cause; Shaw, and other white employees, had been compelled to take anti-bias training and was told to accept the idea that structural racism was a given and needs to be eradicated.

Shaw has been posting her views frequently over the months leading to this recent departure, declaring that the schools needed to “Stop demanding that I admit to white privilege, and work on my so-called implicit bias as a condition of my continued employment.” The irony behind this furor is that it all springs out of another event, one taking place in the summer of 2018. Then, a black student named Oumou Kanoute created a racial uproar over an incident with some campus employees, leading to a racial debate on the campus that continues to currently enflame.

Kanoute’s story was that one afternoon she was eating lunch in a dorm when she was approached by a janitor and a security officer over being there. She claimed to have had an emotional meltdown over being profiled, over being charged with ‘’eating while black,’’ and for being threatened by the officer carrying a lethal weapon. Her story became widely reported, appearing on CNN and covered by major outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post. As will be shown, the press not only rushed to a judgment but even today, when details have become known, they continue to conduct media malpractice.

The specifics of the incident, based on the school’s private investigations as well as testimony from numerous witnesses, show something else entirely. Ms. Kanoute that day went to a cafeteria closed off to students, as it was being used for a children’s summer camp. She took her food to a lounge located in a dorm that was closed for the summer. A janitor spotted her in the area where she did not belong and called security, who then approached her about being in the off-limits area. The janitor had previously been instructed to call security if anyone was spotted in the closed areas; the security guard carried no weapon. 

Upon approach the officer recognized Kanoute as a student, which diffused any conflict. Transcripts show the janitor never mentioned her race at all during his call to bring security. (In fact the janitor was far enough away to be unclear about the sex of the individual he saw, leading to Kanoute later declaring he had ‘’misgendered her.) The school officials reacted swiftly, issuing numerous apologies and speaking from the standpoint of proven guilt. They did so before any investigation. The workers were put on disciplinary leave without being interviewed about the incident.

One employee at the cafeteria had mentioned to Ms. Kanoute that it was only to be used for the summer camp, but she took no other action. Workers joke that they often refuse to challenge the rich students on campus because it will lead to a firing. This became reflected by Ms. Kanoute’s actions as her story blew up. She named that cafeteria worker and posted her picture and contact information as being behind the call to security, and did the same regarding another janitor who had not been on campus at the time of the episode. Kanoute accused them both of racism and the campus as being complicit for employing them.

            FACTS BECOME SECONDARY TO ‘TRUTH’

This incident is so clearly based on a fraud that it probably can be classified as a hoax. Nearly three years have elapsed and it remains a story and continues to create a rift on the campus. Those looking into the matter refuse to acknowledge that the facts do not align with the accusations, yet both the school administration and the press have chosen to align with the accusation. 

In October of 2018 the school concluded its investigation, issuing a report that cleared all employees who were involved and found not a single piece of evidence of race being a factor. The report also said it could find no proof of Ms. Kanoute’s accusation of a yearlong pattern of racial discrimination. The result: all those following the charge of racism continued to hold their ground.

The school president says the report was a validation of Ms. Kanoute’s lived experience. The ACLU, who represented Ms. Kanoute, announced the subconscious bias is hard to prove with evidence. But even the New York Times, in its lengthy summation of the story, fell back on Kanoute’s version of the events while downplaying the glaring lack of evidence of any racial influence on what played out.

The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

What is represented is the tensions between the desire to fuel a race-based story and the facts. This phrase of ‘’a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth’’ is used to describe what most people call ‘’a lie.’’ Ms. Kanoute took an incident that was the result of her essentially trespassing and retaliating with charges of racism. The press latched onto the story and the administration assigned guilt from the start. Now they all refuse to be swayed by the facts, as keeping racial tensions alive is the priority.

The sad irony is that what the press and the school are engaged in is the very actions they say they deplore. In wanting to combat the lived-in experience of people attacked over race they are assigning guilt for simply being white, without the presence of evidence. White workers are told they need to address assumed negative behavior, in order to combat making decisions on their assumed biases, all to avoid passing judgment based on race. 

That all of this is not based on anything approaching evidence is the problem. That the press is not in any way moved by the actual evidence that is presented shows a coordinated manipulation taking place. The people most bothered by the charge of ‘’fake news’’ sure seem rather infatuated with fake stories, made more glaring when they are presented with the facts and do not have much interest.