More than 40 African American intellectuals are asking Smith College to end the “forced, accusatory ‘anti-bias’ training” that was mandated for campus service workers after a student falsely accused some workers of racially-profiling her.
The letter, obtained by National Review, was sent on Monday to Smith College president Kathleen McCartney by Bob Woodson, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and founder of “1776 Unites,” and 44 fellow black intellectuals. The signatories ask McCartney to “rethink how you have handled” the fallout over an alleged incident of racial profiling in the summer of 2018, and urge her to “publicly apologize” and “compensate” the school’s service workers that were caught up in the firestorm.
As detailed by the New York Times, a Smith student accused a janitor and a police officer of questioning “my being at Smith, and my existence overall as a woman of color” after the service workers asked her why she was eating lunch in a closed dormitory lounge. McCartney immediately sided with the student, who drew national attention and backing from the ACLU, as she held up the incident as an example of an oppressive campus environment.
“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives,” she wrote.
The student later posted the identities of a cafeteria worker and a janitor on Facebook. “This is the racist person,” she said of the cafeteria worker, who had warned her not to eat in the closed area. The accused janitor was not even working at the time of the incident.
“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone,” said Mark Patenaude, the janitor in question. After 21 years at Smith, he left his job at the school soon after being falsely accused.
Despite a subsequent investigation by an outside law firm revealing no persuasive evidence of bias, McCartney responded by arguing that “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias,” and subsequently implemented mandatory anti-bias training for campus staff. The move has led to public blowback, including from a former staffer and Smith alum who recently resigned over the treatment.
The letter’s signatories — scholars Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and Shelby Steele among them — express disgust at the way McCartney has handled the situation.
“Many of us participated in the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for equal treatment under the law, which included due process and the presumption of innocence,” they write. “We didn’t march so that Americans of any race could be presumed guilty and punished for false accusations while the elite institution that employed them cowered in fear of a social media mob. We certainly didn’t march so that privileged Blacks could abuse working class whites based on ‘lived experience.’”
The letter also questions McCartney for a recent February letter she wrote to the Smith community, in which she stated that “our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence.”
“Have you gathered any verifiable evidence of success from the ‘antibias’ training you forced your service employees to undergo as a condition of their employment?” the letter asks. “Please consider that many Black Americans find training that reduces us simply to a racial category profoundly condescending and dehumanizing.”
Loury and McWhorter recently announced that they are trying to establish a process to help people embroiled in legal situations over disagreeing with critical race theory and anti-bias treatment.
“Once we have a better sense of what the members of our community are dealing with at the local level, we should be in a better position to think of ways we can help one another collectively,” Loury wrote in a note to his Substack subscribers.