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‘No person is an island’: Marchers rally against racial profiling in wake of Smith College incident

  • Rev. Sarah Buteux speaks Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people cross Market Street in downtown Northampton during a “March Against Anti-Blackness and Xeonophobia in the Connecticut River Valley”, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. The march and a rally that followed it was planned in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mareatha Wallace, of Pelham, speaks Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people cross Main Street in downtown Northampton during a "March Against Anti-Blackness and Xeonophobia in the Connecticut River Valley", Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. The march and a rally that followed it was planned in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jacqueline Wallace, lower right, of Amherst, leads a group in song, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. Her daughter, Mareatha Wallace, top right, of Pelham, was one of the organizers. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people head to City Hall in downtown Northampton during a "March Against Anti-Blackness and Xeonophobia in the Connecticut River Valley", Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. The march and a rally that followed it was planned in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People gather to listen to speakers Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Emily Waid-Jones, top, speaks Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. Beside her are Mareatha Wallace, center, and Jacqueline Wallace. Mareatha was one of the organizers of the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mareatha Wallace, center, of Pelham, speaks Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. Beside her are Emily Waid-Jones, left, Rachel Carkhuff, top, and Jacqueline Wallace. Waid-Jones and Carkhuff also spoke. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A list of demands from Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July, is held by Jacqueline Wallace during a rally and march held in support of Kanoute, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Northampton City Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mareatha Wallace, left, of Pelham, and her mother, Jacqueline Wallace, of Amherst, applaud as Lily Sparks, 8, speaks Friday at Northampton City Hall during a rally held in support of Oumou Kanoute, a 19-year-old Smith College student who alleges she suffered through a racial bias incident at the school in July. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer 
Published: 9/1/2018 12:42:54 AM

NORTHAMPTON — In response to an incident at Smith College that many have criticized as an act of racial profiling, community members marched Friday from Sheldon Field to City Hall as part of a “March Against Anti-Blackness and Xenophobia in Western Mass.”

The march and rally, which drew about 50 people, came in the wake of a July incident in which a Smith employee called police to report that Oumou Kanoute, a black student who was taking a lunch break in a common area, “seemed to be out of place.”

Following the incident, the college hired an outside investigator and placed the employee, whose identity has not been released, on paid leave.

Upon arriving at City Hall Friday, participants held a rally to support Kanoute; encourage discussion of racism in the community at large; and draw the attention of local leaders, who they say have not adequately addressed Kanoute’s experience or other issues of racism in the community.

Members of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir accompanied the marchers as they made their way toward City Hall, leading the group in songs such as “Respect” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

“I am a revolutionary, and I’m calling for you to join me in that revolution,” Mareatha Wallace, one of the rally’s organizers, said to the crowd that gathered at City Hall. Some participants held signs carrying messages such as “Black Students Matter & Belong,” “White people… STEP UP,” “Justice for Oumou Now!” and “Happy Valley for whom?”

“No person is an island, no group should fight alone, and we need to stand and support each other,” Wallace continued.

Wallace told the Gazette that she had informed Kanoute of the march through “Facebook and other means,” but has not received a response.

“We are here to support Oumou,” Wallace said at the rally. “We are here to show that she is not standing alone. Even though she is not here, she is not standing alone. We have a community that is behind her and is willing to support her.”

In an Aug. 30 statement, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said that she had reached out to Kanoute and offered to meet with her.

“In the context of a profoundly divided political and social climate, in this country and around the world, it is urgent that we, as members of an educational community, learn to speak with one another, not past one another, when we disagree, and to do so with the goal of true understanding,” McCartney wrote.

She continued, “Learning how to have authentic conversations about our identities, especially race and class, is among the most challenging work many of us do — and we all need to learn how to do this work better.”

Wallace is not satisfied with the school’s response to the incident, and said that the college is overly focused on how the occurrence affects its own staff.

“(Kanoute’s) first request is to know what happened. To know who did this,” Wallace said to the crowd, referencing a Facebook post that Kanoute published on Aug. 2, in which she addressed several “personal demands” toward Smith. “Her second request was to have a restorative justice meeting with that staff member and the president of Smith College. And those things have not been discussed, so I find that a little discouraging.”

Wallace also asked that Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz address the issue, and that Northampton schools place greater focus on accurately teaching the history of minority groups.

“Smith College isn’t alone in this troubling issue,” Gabriela Bustamante, a former Smith student who attended the march to “stand in solidarity with people of color who are being oppressed,” said to the Gazette. “We are stronger than when we’re divided.”




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