When I saw pictures this past weekend of the undergraduate president of the Women’s Leadership Initiative moderating a discussion with Evan Spiegel, CEO and co-founder of Snapchat, I almost choked at the horrific irony.
The Yale Entrepreneurial Society brought Spiegel to campus to inspire students to think big about entrepreneurship and maybe even “build a startup [to be] the next Facebook or Snapchat,” according to Kyle Jensen, director of entrepreneurial programs at the School of Management.
Though he may be an entrepreneur and inventor of a multibillion dollar app, Spiegel deserves no place or recognition on this campus.
In May, the blog Valleywag obtained emails Spiegel sent during his fraternity days at Stanford in the 2009–10 academic year. As a member of Kappa Sigma, Spiegel openly made misogynistic comments, calling sorority members “sororisluts” and encouraging other brothers to solicit oral sex from women. Illegal drug usage was also featured prominently.
Lest you think this attitude was unrelated to Snapchat, there’s more. In other emails, Spiegel touted the utility of an early version of Snapchat as a way to ask friends, “Does my ass look fat?”
During a difficult time for the University regarding its sexual climate, publicly recognizing someone like Spiegel while disregarding the blatant disrespect he once held for women compromises the progress made on this campus. If the YES wants to host a role model for students, there are plenty more to choose from.
The organizers of the event and the student leader on stage may not have been aware of Spiegel’s transgressions. Herein lies part of the problem. Investors in Snapchat seemed not to take great issue with the released emails. One defended him, saying, “Everyone sent stupid emails and did stupid things when they were 19.”
Stupid? Perhaps. Aggressively demeaning to the female gender? No. The news made its way across the Internet for a couple of days and promptly disappeared without any serious consequences for the CEO other than an embarrassing public apology.
It’s fair to think that even if the organizers and students knew about the emails, Spiegel would still have been invited, and turnout would have been similar. This is a much larger problem. A rich, successful male comes to Yale to share his ideas, and hundreds of enamored fans will flock to the unique opportunity to sit in the presence of a millionaire and share blurry selfies of their 50 minutes of fame. Basking in the glory of wealth and prestige, we forgive and forget the celebrity’s past faults so long as he regrets his actions and reassures us he is a changed man. Yet we reach for the pitchforks when a regular Joe voices similar slurs.
This worries me. Asking where our mindset originated is foolish, for the answer is obvious. In a culture where financial excess is euphemistically dubbed “growth,” where Forbes worships executive compensation packages and where top college graduates ship off to high-paying jobs on Wall Street, K Street and Silicon Valley, it’s not hard to be whirlpooled into the culture of exalting wealth.
This can be especially true at Yale. We all chose this University in part due to its prestige. We admire wealthy alumni for their successes, aspire to become leaders and entrepreneurs and compete for the few hallowed spots in sexy industries and renowned graduate schools. I constantly ask myself why I want to be a physician, and I admit that distinguishing my genuine interest in medicine from the financial stability and social prestige of the occupation is not a straightforward task.
This is not a call for organizations to vet their invited speakers, but for students to vet their own aspirations. Are we sacrificing certain values in our path to ascension? I have little reason to doubt the sincerity of Spiegel’s apologies, but his emails still speak to a dubious moral character that we may be too eager to accept. No one’s successes and contributions should be separated from their demonstrated worldview.
Ike Lee is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at email@example.com.