White college employee resigns citing “racially hostile environment”


Smith College employee Jodi Shaw resigned in February following months of what she called a “racially hostile environment.” Smith College, founded in 1871, is an elite women’s liberal arts school in western Massachusetts.

Her decision to quit stems from a 2018 incident. Campus police were called about a student eating lunch alone in an area used for children’s summer programs. Campus police were told the woman “seemed out of place.” After talking to the woman the police determined there was nothing suspicious and left.

Oumou Kanoute, the student in question, is black. Whoever called the campus police remains unknown because of the college’s policy not to release names in a police report.

Kanoute wrote on her Facebook page, “All I did was be black. It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color. I was very nervous, and had a complete meltdown after this incident.”

An independent investigation found no evidence of racial bias. But Shaw, who is white, claims the college started treating her based on assumptions due to her skin color.


Smith College issued a lengthy response. “This incident has raised concerns in our community about bias and equity. Smith College does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form. Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community,” the statement said in part. It went on to say, “We strongly encourage any member of the community experiencing bias in any form to immediately notify the college.”

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, while not identifying Shaw by name, responded to her claims. “The former employee, in her letter, accuses the college of creating a racially hostile environment for white people, a baseless claim that the college flatly denies,” she noted.

President McCartney addressed Smith College’s approach to equity and inclusion. She said in part, “Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society.” In discussing “unconscious biases” she added, “Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere.”


Jodi Shaw, herself a Smith College graduate, alleges she was subjected to a “racially hostile environment” for two and a half years following the incident. It left her “physically and mentally debilitated,” she added.

According to Shaw the incident started a “culture war.” For example, Shaw was told she couldn’t use a RAP song as a library orientation for students because it was “cultural appropriation.”

As a new employee, “I was told on multiple occasions that discussing my personal thoughts and feelings about my skin color is a requirement of my job,” Shaw wrote. “I endured racially hostile comments,” she added.

Later, a supervisor told her that she had to overcome tensions with a nonwhite coworker by remembering the “race, gender, and city of origin of this person.” Shaw’s interpretation was that “I was to lower my expectations of my colleague’s ability to communicate.”

During a meeting with the college’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Director in 2020, Shaw said she was asked, “Do you believe in white privilege?”

The last straw came in January 2020 when Shaw was required to participate in a three-day racial sensitivity retreat. During the retreat she declined to talk about her racial identity. Shaw said the two facilitators, both of whom were black, told her she was demonstrating white fragility. “I was shamed and felt humiliated in front of all my colleagues,” she said.


Shaw, a 49-year-old mother of twins, ultimately quit her $45,000-a-year job last month.

Along with plans to file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Shaw started a GoFundMe page to cover legal expenses. Smith College confirms that Shaw is seeking an “exceptionally large sum” in a financial settlement.

Image from: Tucker Carlson

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