Following the leak of sexist, crude emails sent by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel during his time at Stanford, the university’s Provost John Etchemendy has issued a memo to students imploring them to “learn something from this.”
“We can choose to turn a blind eye to such statements and chalk them up to youthful indiscretion,” Etchemendy wrote. “Or we can be more courageous, and affirmatively reject such behavior whenever and wherever we see it, even — no, especially — if it comes up from a friend, a classmate, or a colleague. Only if we choose the latter will we create the kind of university culture we all can be proud of, all of the time.”
You can see a screenshot of the email below, or read the full thing here.
Stanford University is responsible for some of the brightest minds in the world, not just Silicon Valley. Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Steve Ballmer, and Reed Hastings were all Cardinal at one point or another, most of them dropping out just like Evan Spiegel did to build Snapchat.
Because of this, and because of its world-renowned Business School, Stanford attracts many aspiring entrepreneurs who dream of becoming one of Silicon Valley’s elite, making Stanford a coveted place for kids to grow into self-sustaining, business-building adults. Rightfully so, Etchemendy seems to understand the responsibility of the school, the students, and the community as a whole to hold each other accountable.
And so I think it’s important that we take a look at the people who go on to foster those same individuals after their time at school, which is, well… ourselves.
The press. The incubators and accelerators. The big corporate companies like Google and Facebook who hunt through these schools for potential hires. And the venture capitalists, who hand these young, bright (and sometimes sexist) minds tons of money, perhaps without thinking about what kind of role model they’re catapulting into the public eye.
And finally, the users. Users of these services, like Snapchat and Rap Genius and Uber, which seem to be led by some of the most successful “bros” of all time, have a choice in this. We can turn a blind eye, or we can choose to be a part of a fundamental shift in the technology industry, which surely has the most influence over our future as a society.
And in reading the reactions to that article, I feel it’s important to make something clear. Despite my opinions about Evan’s insecurity, cockiness, or his (hopefully) former attitude towards women, I am still thoroughly impressed by the work he’s done on Snapchat. I believe, genuinely, that he is learning, and will continue to learn and grow with every step he takes to build Snapchat into a truly revolutionary and long-lasting business.
Rather, the entire reason for pointing any of this out is so that we look at where we are as a community of people excited about changing the world through technology. It sounds like a cheesy thing to say, given how cliché that line actually is, but it’s also very true. A decade ago, there was no way to keep track of all of your friends from every chapter in your life. But with Facebook comes very real psychological issues, like Facebook Depression. (Yeah, it’s a real thing.)
The man at the helm of this company, Mark Zuckerberg, was no angel. Leaked IMs revealed he thought of his users as “dumb fucks” for handing over their private info to him. Maybe we all still are?
But today, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated $120 million to the Bay Area education system, which is just a small slice of the philanthropic work he’s done and continues to do. And though it’s silly and naïve to think that part of Mark Zuckerberg isn’t motivated by money, it’s also narrow to not look at the changes he’s making in the world and give them their due credit.
He’s matured from that guy, writing IMs admitting that he doesn’t understand the “business stuff,” to using the “business stuff” to bring the Internet to the rest of the world, giving billions of people access to limitless information and connectivity.
No one is perfect, but we can all grow, and we can all help each other grow.
We’d be wise to take on the same attitude as Provost Etchemendy when he asked “that each of us choose the more difficult path whenever we encounter such attitudes. 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 from now, how abhorrent those attitudes are, whether real or feigned.”