A digest of the official report on the July 31 investigation

PHOTO BY KELLY PIEN ‘20 | PHOTO EDITOR  Michelle Wong ’19 and Kelly Pien ’20 unpack the contents of the Incident Report on the July 31 incident.


Michelle Wong ’19 and Kelly Pien ’20 unpack the contents of the Incident Report on the July 31 incident.

Kelly Pien ‘20 | Photo Editor, Social Media Manager & Michelle Wong ‘19 | Staff Writer

Anatomy of the report

Executive summary - pp. 1-2

Investigative Process - pp. 2-3

Smith’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy - pp. 3-4

Information Gathered Relevant to the Incident - pp. 5-19

Findings Related to the Incident - pp. 19-26:

  1. Timeline of events from all parties’ point of view, noting discrepancies.

  2. For each person involved (dining employee, caller, dispatcher, responding officer):

    1. What more likely than not happened.

    2. Whether words or actions indicated intentional different treatment of the reported party or otherwise knowingly caused her harm because of her race or color.

Conclusion - pp. 26: “The investigation did not find that the evidence was sufficient to show that the Reported Party was discriminated against with respect to the Incident” and other conclusions.

Appendix A - pp. 27: “Information gathered by the Investigative Team related to protocols, relevant training and practices for response to ‘suspicious persons’ by: Campus employees such as the Caller; Dispatchers; and Campus Police.”

Appendix B - pp. 27-35: Investigators’ suggestions on policy improvements.

Exhibits: Includes photos of evidence, articles from several different news outlets, social media posts by the student, statistics on suspicious person calls (p. 129), “Job Duties and Expectations” for employees in the summer program (p. 80).

The results of a third-party investigation into a police call on a black student were posted to Smith’s website and emailed to the Smith community by President McCartney Oct. 29. In the email, the president invited the campus to read the 35-page report in its entirety.

The report concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show that the student was discriminated against and that the caller’s stated reason for contacting Campus Police was not a pretext for discrimination.

McCartney also invited students, staff and faculty to a gathering on the same day, roughly two hours after the email was sent, in the Helen Hills Hills Chapel. “I am opening [the chapel] at 12 noon today for students, staff and faculty who want to gather in community. There will be no formal program; rather, this will be an informal opportunity for reflection and conversation.”

This screenshot shows the beginning of President McCartney’s campus-wide e-mail announcing the independent report and the community event scheduled for noon on the same day.

Smith commissioned investigators Anthony Cruthird and Kate Upatham of Sanghavi Law to determine if the custodian had violated the college’s affirmative action policy and recommend improvements to the college’s suspicious persons reporting policy.

For academic-year employees, the college does not have clear directions about what to do if staff members find a person in an unexpected place. Summer employees, who work with minors, have a college-designated policy detailing the procedures for “suspicious persons.” Excerpts of the policy are in Appendix A and in a PDF titled “Exhibits,” comprised of supporting materials for the report.

Investigators suggested focusing on “behaviors, rather than persons, as ‘suspicious.’” They also suggested to set different responses for different scenarios.

Who can access what areas of buildings at certain times of day should also be clarified, according to investigators. The custodian believed students were not supposed to be in the Tyler living room at that time, while the student believed she was allowed to.

The investigators made suggestions for the college to better understand "the experiences and perceptions of community members," through tools such as climate surveys and focus groups in Appendix B. They also suggested that the college continues its ongoing efforts to provide implicit bias training for staff and members of the college community.

When asked about a timeline for consideration of policy changes, how students can gather to reflect on the incident and how students of color can process and heal from this incident, the News office responded with snippets of McCartney’s email, without context on which question was being answered.

Communication between Michelle Wong ‘19 and Smith College’s News Office.

A supervisor of the college’s Facilities Management department, which is the department of the custodian who called campus police, declined to comment. He cited a college policy that he was represented by the college’s spokespersons and could not be involved with any discussions.

Highlights from the report

  1. A dining employee interacted with the student prior to the call. The dining employee was interviewed for and part of the investigation. The student and the dining employee had an exchange about how the student was not allowed to eat at Tyler at the time, but their accounts of the situation were different (pp. 6-7).

  2. There are multiple photos in the Exhibit 5 of a giant teddy bear that was in the Tyler living room during the incident. The report says, “the Caller said that a large teddy bear on the couch obscured his ability to see the rest of the person through the living room doors.” (Exhibit 5 depicts the large teddy bear.)

  3. The current policy does not clarify in which situations staff seeing suspicious activity should call campus police or approach the person themselves (p. 22).

  4. The report describes further interactions the responding officer and the student had shortly after the incident in p. 14.  The officer apologizes on behalf of the Reporting Party in the dialogue described.

  5. The report provides a timeline of events that occurred on that day in detail in the Investigative Process in pp. 5-19.

Exhibit 5 from the investigative report into the incident on July 31, 2018 shows a large teddy bear in Tyler House’s living room.

Exhibit 5 from the investigative report into the incident on July 31, 2018 shows a large teddy bear in Tyler House’s living room.

Student Reactions

Students had many reactions to the email and conclusion of the report. Some expressed that they were “generally pissed off,” and others “not surprised.” Other students expressed that the handling of the release of the report and subsequent invites to the chapel were “poor planning, last-minute and sloppy” and “planned perfectly so no one can attend.”

Some students declined to comment because they felt it was too soon for them to be able to comment on the situation.

The Sophian reached out to the leaders of the college’s BSA and SACSA and are gathering more student responses.

Background Info

In the incident, which took place the afternoon of July 31 this year, the now-sophomore was eating lunch, reading and using her iPad in Tyler House’s living room. A custodian called campus police on her, telling the dispatcher that the student seemed “out of place.” When the campus police officer arrived, the caller pointed to the student in the living room as the suspicious person. Upon questioning, the student explained she was a teaching assistant at a summer program, showing her identification. The officer apologized. The student was left “shaken” and “frightened,” according to the report.

Afterwards, in a series of viral social media posts about her encounter, the student asserted that she had been racially profiled. They were covered by national media outlets and sparked protests in Northampton and at Smith.

This story is developing. A follow-up story will be published.

Sophian Smith