Smith meltdown: NYT reports honestly, for once (but Rolling Stone doesn’t)

February 25, 2021 • 10:30 am

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve reported on the case of Jodi Shaw, the employee of Smith College who was driven out for making YouTube videos about Smith’s climate of toxic racial divisiveness—a climate that affected her personally.  Shaw turned down Smith’s offer of a financial settlement in return for Shaw’s silence, and started a GoFundMe campaign to keep her and her two kids alive since she doesn’t have a job. The money will also go for a lawsuit against Smith and to help other Smith students.  The campaign has raised nearly $241,000—$90,000 over its original goal (Smith says she’ll use any excess over $150,000 “to help others exercise their right to be free from a hostile work environment”).  To me, this quick and generous response means that there are a lot of people out there (not all of them Republicans!) who share Smith’s worries about the infusion of Critical Race Theory into colleges. Smith College appears to be a particularly toxic example of that infusion.

Rolling Stone published a snarky attack on Shaw, which is short on facts (it completely neglects the atmosphere of Smith reported in detail in the New York Times article below), and paints Shaw as a “cancel culture martyr.” The hit piece, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below, ends this way:

Fortunately for Shaw, she appears to have gotten her money’s worth: a fundraiser to help her with living expenses has raised more than $214,000, proving that one of the quickest routes to success in the age of social media is to publicly and dramatically claim you’ve been canceled.

I highly doubt that Shaw went through all this tsouris to become a martyr and to gain “success in the age of social media.” Rolling Stone‘s reporting is both inaccurate and execrable, and we’ll move on.

I’m amazed that the New York Times covered the story not just of Jodi Shaw, but of the fulminating racial toxicity at Smith, which of course was the reason Shaw was exposed to the “racial sensitivity training” that started the whole incident. And the Times’s story is long, complete, and fair. It pulls no punches when it comes to describing Smith’s toxic atmosphere. But it also paints a dire picture of Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President, who is wedded to Critical Race Theory, apparently out of fear of pushback from the students. I’m not going to call for McCartney’s resignation, as that is something I have no power over, but I think that the present furor, including a letter in the Paper of Record about what’s really going on at Smith, might hasten her departure.

Read the longish NYT article by clicking on the screenshot.

This is the story’s dramatic “lede”:

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

Facts versus “personal truths”—but the “personal truths” turned out to be empirical falsities!

As I thought, and as Shaw has said repeatedly, Smith is ridden with racial tension. And it didn’t have to be that way. It all went back, as the article describes, to a 2018 claim of racism by Ouou Kanoute, a black firstfirst-generation student whose parents immigrated from Mali. In the summer of that year, Kanoute went to get lunch in a cafeteria that was restricted to participants in “a summer camp program for young children.” Kanoute wasn’t supposed to be using the cafeteria because she was a student worker—a teaching assistant. One cafeteria worker

. . . mentioned that to Ms. Kanoute when she saw her getting lunch there and then decided to drop it. Staff members dance carefully around rule enforcement for fear students will lodge complaints.

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone,” said Mark Patenaude, a janitor.

Kanoute then took her lunch and went into the lounge of an empty dorm closed for the summer. Nobody was supposed to be in that dorm, and janitors and others were told to call security if they saw anybody there. A 60 year old janitor saw Kanoute and made that call. A security worker came, recognized Kanoute, and left. And that was it. No mention of race was made by anybody, including the janitor reporting Kanoute’s presence.

It would have ended there had Kanoute not used social media to claim that she was persecuted because she was black. (Kanoute’s behavior over the past few years makes her seem a tad unhinged.)  And then things went to hell.  The janitor was put on leave, the cafeteria worker persecuted and harassed by both President McCartney and the students, and McCartney, stung by her own missteps in the past, put the campus on Full White Supremacist Alert:

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

. . .Ms. Blair [the cafeteria worker] was reassigned to a different dormitory, as Ms. Kanoute lived in the one where she had labored for many years. Her first week in her new job, she said, a female student whispered to another: There goes the racist.

Anti-bias training began in earnest in the fall. Ms. Blair and other cafeteria and grounds workers found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive. Ms. Blair recalled growing silent and wanting to crawl inside herself.

The faculty are not required to undergo such training. Professor Lendler said in an interview that such training for working-class employees risks becoming a kind of psychological bullying. “My response would be, ‘Unless it relates to conditions of employment, it’s none of your business what I was like growing up or what I should be thinking of,’” he said.

That’s exactly what Jodi Shaw experienced, and also thought was “none of anybody’s business.”

Note that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) stepped in to defend Kanoute. But then Smith College hired a law firm to produce an independent report on the incident, and it came up with. . . no evidence of racism:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

A similar conclusion—no racism involved—was reached by the Boston Globe‘s investigation.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, right? Wrong!  For now there is a narrative of racism, as John McWhorter points out, and it’s a narrative that has to be kept going regardless of whether there is real racism at all. And so President McCartney hasn’t done a thing to foster reconciliation or healing. Instead, she just brings up the “feelings versus facts” trope, as well as the discredited trope of “implicit racial bias”:

Still, Ms. McCartney said the report validated Ms. Kanoute’s lived experience, notably the fear she felt at the sight of the police officer. “I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,” she wrote, “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.” [JAC: If you can’t rule it out, because it’s impossible to dig into someone’s unconscious, then it must be racism!]

The report said Ms. Kanoute could not point to anything that supported the claim she made on Facebook of a yearlong “pattern of discrimination.”

Ms. McCartney offered no public apology to the employees after the report was released. “We were gobsmacked — four people’s lives wrecked, two were employees of more than 35 years and no apology,” said Tracey Putnam Culver, a Smith graduate who recently retired from the college’s facilities management department. “How do you rationalize that?”

(Remember, this is from the New York Times!) Smith’s and McCartney’s behavior is reprehensible. Were I a Smith alum, or a donor, I’d be appalled at how McCartney’s acted. What kind of President is this?

But the ACLU has behaved just as badly. As we know, the ACLU is going off the rails these days, and when an organization like that can’t even admit the truth, and has also has bought into a racial narrative that it must defend, you get something like this:

Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts and Ms. Kanoute’s lawyer, cautioned against drawing too much from the investigative report, as subconscious bias is difficult to prove. Nor was he particularly sympathetic to the accused workers.

“It’s troubling that people are more offended by being called racist than by the actual racism in our society,” he said. “Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism.”

That is, let three lower-middle-class people be thrown to the wolves by Smith. What does it matter if the narrative of structural racism at Smith (which does NOT exist) be kept alive? There’s always that “subconscious bias” that is “difficult to prove”!

A few Smith faculty are quoted as opposing what McCartney and the College have done, but they are crying in the wilderness. It’s up to the College’s trustees and alumni to let President McCartney know that “lived experience,” if it doesn’t correspond to the truth, cannot be allowed to ruin people’s lives or to create a toxic climate in a formerly respected college.  In the end, Kanoute’s acts and false cries of racism have come down to ruin Jodi Shaw’s life as well.

The miscreant President is acting notably un-Presidential.

Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President. Appointed 2012, miscreant since 2018.

 

68 thoughts on “Smith meltdown: NYT reports honestly, for once (but Rolling Stone doesn’t)

        1. I’d personally go with “misspelled” …!

          Pedants of the world, unite – we have nothing to lose but our sanity.

  1. What I immediately noticed is there seems to be an accepted stratification of the university based on class. The faculty are at the top and the admin staff are referred to as “working class” irrespective of position it seems. Then there are the students that occupy the upper classes of the society outside the university and they call all the shots because they have the real power. And all these circles of power are being used to bully everyone. Seems there needs to be some “checking of privilege”.

    1. I doubt that the students hold the power. Yes, their tuition pays the bills. Yet my guess is that the “student radicals” are a small minority, and the college has enough applicants (potential customers) that it could do without them.
      Why Smith College’s president cannot do the right thing, namely apologize to the staff workers and have the misbehaving student apologize to the stuff workers, is not clear.
      I think the president should resign. She obviously does not have what it takes to be a leader of an educational institution. Also agree with PCC(E) that the ACLU does not look good in this.
      I read some of the reader comments at the New York Times website – they are full of common sense, which in this case means that the commenters are upset with the college’s president and apprehensive about the damage that incidents like this do to the fight for more justice.

      1. Yes agree about the president but what struck me was the staff joking that you’d better not upset a rich student or you’ll be fired and how the staff in the cafeteria didn’t push to hard to get the student to move out of the cafeteria that was closed to her for this fear. In this way the students do seem to have power over staff.

      2. Why Smith College’s president cannot do the right thing, namely apologize to the staff workers and have the misbehaving student apologize to the stuff workers, is not clear.

        Seems clear enough: the president and the relevant workers are white, the student black, and “invalidating” the “lived experience” of a student “of color” is racist.

      3. The students hold the power in a “the customer is always right” sense. Smith has more higher education competitors than ever. Their tuition prices are so high, they aren’t competitive price-wise with equivalently academically good (and even better) schools. They have to convince prospective students (and their parents) that their liberal arts and historically strong feminist campus experience is so valuable, that they are a better overall choice at $80k/year than Harvard, Stanford, or MIT is at $50k/year.

        So yes, I understand why the President might fear backlash from the students. The administration somewhere along the way decided that the wokes were their future. And now they’re stuck trying to please with an irrationally demanding customer base, or losing them and crashing like Evergreen.

    2. May one reasonably surmise that, at Smith, if one is not “working class,” then one is “non-working class”? Do the custodians possibly clean the students’ toilets? (considering the $70K-plus tuition) Students should clean their own toilets. It builds character. Or would that necessitate a “trigger warning”?

      Also, why does the NY Times possibly think that the age (60) of the custodian is possibly relevant? What if the custodian were 21? If report the age of one, report the age of all mentioned in the article.

  2. Prof. Lendler is absolutely right and the NYT is right for pointing out the disparity in use of training: the fact that only administrative staff and not professors are subjected to this makes it clear that Smith is pushing their lower ranked staff beyond what is relevant to employment…and they’re doing it to only their lower ranked staff, because they think that’s where they can get away with it.

    ***
    Minor aside: Seems ridiculous that white collar workers like Ms. Shaw would be paid $40k when the students pay $80k/year each and Northampton has an above average cost of living (108) and a significantly higher housing cost index (130).

    ***
    Re: Ms. Kanoute’s claims. While the description of the cafeteria workers, janitor, and responding officer all shows them just following Smith’s rules and policies (and in some cases giving extra leeway to the student), this doesn’t necessarily rule out discrimination. Selectively applying reasonable rules is another form of discrimination. For example, a cop is discriminating when they only pull over black speeders, even though pulling someone over for speeding is a reasonable part of their job. So the question is not just whether the cafeteria workers, janitors, and responding officers were following reasonable policies about entry into closed cafeterias and dorms, but whether they would’ve treated a white student ‘rule violator’ the same way they treated Ms. Kanoute.

    I’ll admit I’m being a bit pedantic here though, because while “they treated her differently” was certainly a possibility, the fact that an external legal firm and the Boston Globe both investigated and found no evidence of discrimination almost certainly means no such selective enforcement of the rules was going on. The reasonable behavior of the staff in itself doesn’t rule out the possibility, but the facts of the case also don’t seem to support the notion that it happened.

    1. If the information in the article is accurate, then it is quite clear that Ms. Kanoute lied. In a way and under circumstances that led to significant damage to several people’s lives. One of which wasn’t even on campus during the time frame the incident occurred. She went on social media and falsely accused people of specific and overt racist behavior towards her and gave out personal information about them, with the no doubt intended results.

      Generally speaking I am pretty willing to give people from groups that have long been oppressed slack when it comes to over doing it on pushing back against those that oppressed them. I’ve got no sympathy at all for Ms. Kanoute. I think she is the bad actor of this incident and she should face some consequences for her actions, such as lying and giving out personal information with intent to cause trouble for people. And the school president should be fired for the way she has handled this situation.

      1. Generally speaking I am pretty willing to give people from groups that have long been oppressed slack …

        It’s worth noting that the student is from Mali, where black people are in the overwhelming majority and are not “oppressed”. Further, any student from Mali whose family can afford those fees likely has a hugely privileged background. Lastly, stats show that recent immigrants to the US from West Africa generally do better overall than white Americans. So, “over-privileged spoilt brat” is likely a better diagnosis that “bad egg from oppressed group”.

        1. A student from Mali is likely to have gotten all sorts of scholarships due to the geographic unusualness of their background – regardless of race, class, etc. So we don’t know if her parents are $80k/year rich or maybe something much less like $30k/year rich. But that’s a bit of a quibble, and I don’t disagree with the rest of your post.

    2. If you read the investigative report, the only possible “selective enforcement” was on the part of the janitor who called this in. The janitor essentially says he saw the lower half of someone’s body (her legs) as she was reclining on a couch, from outside the room, 50-60 feet away. The rest of her body was obscured. He did not approach her. The janitor never mentioned the race of the “suspicious person” when he called campus security, so there was no “selective enforcement” on the part of campus police. It is critical to note though, that the janitor was reporting an unknown person reclining on a couch in an empty dorm; seems like calling campus security was a reasonable judgment call.

  3. The report said Ms. Kanoute could not point to anything that supported the claim she made on Facebook of a yearlong “pattern of discrimination.”

    The student was well-coached by someone (probably the ACLU lawyer) in what to claim. She knew the correct words to say. “Patter” is the key. In the world of feelings (or alternative facts) over facts, you just make shit up and challenge people to disprove it. Then claim psychic “harm” when they do.

  4. The first rule of “what’s actually going on here?” is:

    If you’re not sure what it’s really about, it’s probably about class.

  5. Again and again, race is used as a fig leaf covering bullying and destruction based on class.

    Or perhaps, as an expiatory device for ridding guilt that comes from privileged.

  6. Seems in the micro-environment of Smith (and Williams, etc.), “privilege” belongs to anyone who claims (rightly or wrongly) aggrievement on a racial, ethnic, religious, or gender basis (but of course, only some, not all, within those categories are acceptable). Meanwhile, apparently honest laborers get thrown under the bus. No wonder that nationally there’s a counter political movement of aggrievement. JMO.

  7. “It’s troubling that people are more offended by being called racist than by the actual racism in our society,” he said. “Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism.”

    To be fair, that’s a reasonable point, albeit begging lots of questions.

    1. I think that lawyer’s statement was complete bullshit. IMO it’s simply a category of lying. It is a completely false characterization of this situation.

      Incidents in which that statement would be an accurate characterization do occur, no doubt about it, but this isn’t one of them.

    2. At a time when being called a “racist” has life-changing consequences (loss of employment, income, and reputation), fighting against a false allegation is totally understandable. And doing so isn’t incompatible with also fighting racism – in fact, the battle against the latter will be easier if the targets are the correct ones, surely?

    3. Reasonable point, really? Kind of like saying you shouldn’t complain if I falsely call you a murderer, because murder is more serious than libel.

      In any case I wouldn’t agree with this statement. The word racism covers a vast territory from genocide to causing to feel offended. The consequences to the reputation and/or livelihood of the accused are sometimes more serious than the racism itself.

    4. No it’s an embarrassingly stupid statement by the ACLU lawyer. He’s essentially saying “ being falsely accused of racism is not as bad as being the victim of racism.” There’s no justification for either one.

      The student falsely accused two workers of racism and “doxxed” them. Their reputations and livelihoods were destroyed. They, not the student, were the victims in this ugly affair. The staff workers suffered the consequences of Smith’s college’s racism.

    1. No the biggest problem is the leadership, or lack thereof, at Smith College. The president is supposed to be one of the adults in the room. But what does she do? She let feelings trump facts. This is not how an educator is supposed to behave.

      1. It is fear of litigation that makes cowards out of people. In the US ‘hurt feelings’ can easily cost millions of $. That is why woke is destroying the US more than any other country. Just imagine that all those lawyers were doctors or engineers.

  8. My first thought on reading about the treatment of the cafeteria worker and the janitor was “where were their union representatives in pushing back against this discriminatory treatment?”. Then I remembered that this is in the US. The absence in this story of any mechanism for organizing the collective strength of the administrative staff to protect and represent their interests is the *true* scandal of what’s going on here, and in countless similar situations across the US, not the (in this case) fictitious racism.

    1. Doing something useful at the union for an American was always one way of inducing really intense cognitive dissonance. After a life of being taught that all trade unions are baby-eating monsters, they find it really confusing to find that we’re not.
      Of course, by the time we got to hear about their case, they had normally been sacked already. Often NDA’d too. American laws and mores, applied extraterritorally.

    2. That was my thought too. I have been a member of a great union for many years, it’s been great.

      Cold war propaganda and intense effort by employers there have really crushed unionism.

    3. Wait. What is this “union” thing of which you speak? Is it dish? A room? I remember grandpa around the fire using the word but since the GoP took control….. no more of those “union” thingies.
      D.A.
      NYC

  9. Whoever this “Michael Powell” guy is that wrote the NYT article, I am guessing he won’t see many more bylines in the NYT after the “harm” and “unsafe environment” he has caused to his colleagues in writing this article.

    1. I had that thought, too. Most people would see that as a very level-headed and fact-based piece with no editorializing, but I can’t help but think the woke mob at the NYT will see the lack of editorializing as expressing a racist opinion. Up is down, east is west.

  10. Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts and Ms. Kanoute’s lawyer, cautioned against drawing too much from the investigative report, as subconscious bias is difficult to prove.

    Jeez, that’s like J. Edgar Hoover’s inability to show hardly any actual card-carrying, dues-paying Reds in the 1950s’ CPUSA proved just how sneaky and conniving those dirty commies could be.

    1. You’d think an ACLU would know what ‘speculation’ is.
      Then again, I guess one approach is to keep on speculating in your client’s favor until the judge or opposing counsel objects.

    2. Our experience was that the communists, trotskyists and Red Clydesiders were open and honest about their affiliations. It was the Conservatives (hawk, spit!) and right wingers who often turned out to be agents provocateurs, spies and back-stabbing bastards. The Trots and Clydesiders would, if they were going to stab you, do it from the front.

      1. Rumor in the 1950s was that if it weren’t for all of J. Edgar Hoover’s undercover FBI agents paying dues, the CPUSA would’ve collapsed completely. 🙂

        1. Indeed, according to Wikipedia

          By 1957, membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, of whom some 1,500 were informants for the FBI.[21]

          1. And those 1,500 were the only ones showing up regularly for meetings or actually coughing up their dollars for dues.

            Informants snitching on other informants they didn’t recognize. But it gave ol’ J. Edgar something to do while he was otherwise busy ignoring organized crime. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Apalachin meeting in November ’57 the Hoover finally had to admit that, yeah, maybe there really was such a thing as an American mob.

            1. Jeez – now I know where the inspiration behind the “Friends of Italian Opera” scenes at the end of Some Like it Hot came from.

            2. Now you’re making me wonder whether it was Hoover’s fault. The modern FBI has been pointing out the dangers of right-wing extremism for 30 years now. But Congress and the Presidents kept ignoring it (because the political optics of going after nationalist Americans was so bad…until this January). So now you’re making me wonder if Hoover went after “Communists” rather than the mob for the political reason that Congress would suffer communist investigations, but not any investigation of red-blooded American…entrepreneurs.

        2. No doubt they put it through on expenses. Our guys happily paid their union, sometimes in cash at the office, sometimes through the bank. Which is why the local private eye company got paid to surveil the office form the pub over the road.

        1. Fine gentlemen, to a man. Their women kept the very much on the straight and narrow. And if anything, were the more militant politically.
          Several of the old crew have died in the last year. If they could have had funerals, they’d have been deploying the Scarlet Standard over the coffin.

  11. The bullying of its poorly paid staff workers by expensive Smith College is reminiscent of expensive Oberlin College’s attempt to bully a local small business. We can expect
    attitudes of class privilege from immature, entitled students at these costly finishing schools, but now we are seeing the same behaviors from college administrations as a whole. The cult of D/E/I may be a religion in some respects, but it is also serving as a simple fashion choice in the ivory tower, and a new guise for old-timey class arrogance.

  12. It was a very good piece, and filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of the events that led to Shaw’s resignation. It also added greatly to her credibility, and makes McCartney and, by extension Smith, look truly spineless and feckless in this affair.

  13. “It’s troubling that people are more offended by having their one and only life devastated once and for all than by the actual racism in our society,”

    Go figure.

  14. “I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,” she wrote, “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.” [JAC: If you can’t rule it out, because it’s impossible to dig into someone’s unconscious, then it must be racism!]

    And worse, if reflexively accused of implicit racial bias, by this this logic it becomes impossible to refute i.e. be innocent of the charge. I don’t think so. I want Smith to loose in a $2M discrimination lawsuit. That’ll put a dent in their $1B endowment, send Prez McCarthey packing, and put this CRT bullshit on probation.

  15. There’s another question I haven’t seen anyone raise yet in the discussion, though it’s brought up in the OP: what the *hell* has gotten into the NYT, such that if you didn’t know better you’d have to conclude that they have their heads screwed on right?? Reminding people that all kinds of pretexts are used by member of a dominant socio-economic class to keep the lower orders—white, black brown or any other part of the color wheel—in their place at the bottom doesn’t sound like the Woketariat screed that’s the Times’ main product these days; it’s more like old fashioned democratic socialist class analysis, back when that meant Michael Harrington and others like him.

    Anyone who wants to see how race can be used to subvert class consciousness need look no further than John Calhoun, who advocated unifying the Southern plantation gentry with the poor white sharecroppers in the antebellum era by appeal to a supposed shared racial superiority, even though the latter lived lives barely more adequate in material terms, for the most part, than the slave population. And It worked a treat. What I didn’t expect was to find the New Woke Times making, pretty much explicitly, exactly the same kind of point, at least in general terms. What is going on there??

  16. This Kanoute seems to have a remarkable ability: That of being able to consistently get on people’s nerves in less than 90 seconds.

  17. An encouraging development: the comments on both the NYT and the Rolling Stone articles are overwhelmingly against President McCarthy and on the side of Jodi Shaw.

  18. If you read the NYT comment section the vast majority seems sympathetic with the take people have here, that it was a miscarriage of justice brought on by over-woke sensitivity. There are also some threads in the comments where people in education and other industries are voicing their utter exhaustion in working in the woke atmosphere of being on egg-shells at all time, of all the pushy sensitivity workshops, us/them thinking, constant focus on “what is wrong” etc.

    What a bummer that things have taken this turn. And it looks like it’s getting worse on Joe’s watch, so far.

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