Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel sits at Snapchat headquarters in Los Angeles.
Stanford University, alma mater to many famous tech minds, is none too pleased with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel at the moment.
Spiegel, a former Stanford student who dropped out a few credits short of finishing his degree, made headlines earlier this week when a string of obscene emails he sent to fraternity brothers during his undergraduate years came to light.
Among other things, the expletive-laden emails included references to excessive drinking while Spiegel was underage, drug use, and crude sex jokes at the expense of female students.
Spiegel has since apologized, claiming he is "mortified and embarrassed" that the emails were made public, and on Friday, his former university weighed in on the issue with a campus-wide email to its undergraduate student body from Provost John Etchemendy. In the email, which was first published by Valleywag, Etchemendy described the need to preserve a positive culture at Stanford, which will require students to "affirmatively reject such behavior" when they see it.
Etchemendy never specifically refers to Spiegel or Snapchat by name, but does include snippets of Spiegel's apology. He also wrote that the university community is "positively ashamed" that the emails were sent by a Stanford student.
"I am asking that each of us choose the more difficult path whenever we encounter such attitudes," Etchemendy wrote. "It does not take many strong and vocal objections to communicate what we consider acceptable and what we do not.
Members of our community should learn now, not many years form now, how abhorrent those attitudes are, whether real or feigned.Members of our community should learn now, not many years form now, how abhorrent those attitudes are, whether real or feigned."
While the attention paid to Spiegel's emails has been decried as mere Valley gossip by people who say we should expect nothing better from frat boys, Stanford's response goes beyond idle chatter. The university is in the heart of Silicon Valley, where missteps in the perception and treatment of women are a persistent issue.
It's no secret that women are vastly underrepresented in the tech industry, as evidenced by Google's recent disclosure of its employee demographics (it's 70% men). Part of this is systemic; influencers have a lot of work to do to make STEM education not only accessible, but also attractive for young women who may be interested in the field but don't feel welcome.
That's part of a larger problem regarding gender stereotypes in tech, where men are viewed as the tech minds and women are the supporting cast. This was on full display last Halloween when a tech community center hosted a Hackers and Hookers party. Or at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last year when two guys presented an app, which they later said was a joke, "where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.”
Stanford is a breeding ground for tech and business leaders who lead top startups and venture capital firms in Silicon Valley and beyond. Ignoring sexist comments by turning a blind eye to students who promote this mindset, even if only jokingly, allows it to persist. It doesn't look good for the university, and it doesn't look promising for the future leaders it produces or the attitudes they will take with them.
That's why Stanford told its entire student body in no uncertain terms that the onus is not just on the person who sends the email but, perhaps more so, on those who receive it. To "reject such behavior whenever and wherever we see it even — no, especially — if it comes from a friend, a classmate, or a colleague."
Stanford's leadership, in its response, puts forth the idea that we need to expect more from ourselves, our top universities, and the top minds within them. Spiegel may be hearing this message late, but he's hearing it loud and clear. Now it's a question of whether others will listen, and learn from his mistake.
Etchemendy's email, in full, is embedded below.
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