That simple moment became national history when campus police arrived shortly thereafter, and the officer told them that an employee had reported a black person “exhibiting suspicious behavior.”
As schools attempt to effectively tackle such prejudice, some experts say it is not easy to prove negative intent when charges of racial prejudice are laid.
“In the implicit stereotypes, there is a belief about how we expect these students to behave and what they should or should not do,” said Nao Hagiwara, associate professor of health psychology. at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“The problem with this case is that the implicit stereotypes are associated with microaggressions. It is really subtle behavior, and can easily be justified. It is really difficult to look at the intention of the individual.”
Research has also shown that some white people may react negatively to the types of anti-bias training currently used by most institutions, Hagiwara said. While these types of training can raise awareness of the issue of bias, she continued, they often do not provide the tools to correct behavior, which leads many whites to become anxious and react negatively.
In Kanoute’s case, the Smith College incident highlighted “the need for a systemic equality approach,” said Carol Rose, the executive director of the Massachusetts ACLU, who represented her.
“The problem with ‘see something / say something’ policies is that dispatchers are too often tasked with always dispatching the police – even when there is no suspicion of crime or danger,” she said in a statement.
“We are urging colleges and universities to adopt policies that require dispatchers who receive calls from staff who` `see something suspicious ” to collect specific facts, so the dispatcher can determine the right person to send on. the scene – as a resident assistant or student life expert – rather than always dispatching the police. ”
CNN also contacted Kanoute directly.
How universities try to fight prejudice
Schools are using a myriad of techniques to try and tackle racial prejudice, including policy changes, efforts to maintain and hire diverse staff and anti-prejudice training, according to plans shared with CNN.
When asked about Smith’s background, the school directed CNN to a February 22 letter shared with the campus by Smith College president Kathleen McCartney. In addition to denying the former employee’s allegation of racial hostility, she also addressed concerns about equity and inclusion training, saying that “the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help overcome the barriers between us ”.
“To redress the reality of racism, we have to ask ourselves how we could, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an atmosphere of exclusion,” she said. “While it may be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or sometimes acted in a manner detrimental to members of our community, such self-reflection is a good idea. a prerequisite for making significant progress. ”
Smith also has a Bias Response Team, which[s] incidents of bias, collect aggregate data, identify educational responses and connect those affected by incidents of bias with support resources, “according to its website. The team is not part of an investigation or disciplinary action.
Other universities are focusing on policy reform based on recommendations from the school community.
After an incident at Ball State University where a professor called campus police on a student for not moving to another seat, the school began work to remedy the situation through a series of political measures.
The university has launched an “Inclusive Plan of Excellence,” which seeks to address several areas, including public safety policy changes, classroom management, and the effectiveness of current bias reporting systems. In June, they launched a pilot group to test the effectiveness of cultural awareness and skills training, which submitted a report to the college president on January 1, 2021 with their findings.
A school spokesperson said the school plans to provide an update on its progress on these initiatives in two weeks.
Barnard College also came under fire in 2019 after a Black Columbia University student was pinned to the counter by campus police after trying to take free food. In response to the incident, Barnard formed the Community Safety Group, made up of faculty and students, to review the existing public safety structure.
Hagiwara stressed that for any change to have a meaningful impact, schools must keep in mind that racism is structurally embedded in these institutions. It’s better to work from a place of acknowledging that racism exists and how to get out of it rather than trying to prove that racism played a role, she said.