What to learn from Snapchat’s CEO

In his column about Snapchat CEO’s recent visit (“When stories snap back,” Nov. 11), Ike Lee accuses my extracurricular stack of having “horrific irony.” I am president of the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative, which aims to empower undergraduate women by creating opportunities for personal and professional excellence. Last week, I led a public conversation with CEO and cofounder of Snapchat, Evan Spiegel, on behalf of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society.

Neither organization deserves the implied accusation that because I am a member of both groups, YES’s acknowledgement of Spiegel as a successful entrepreneur challenges WLI’s integrity. It is even more inappropriate to publicly question my personal decisions about what activities to participate in at Yale.

In my capacity as a member of YES, I would invite Spiegel again. As the person who extended the invitation to Spiegel and the person who continued to formally communicate with him in preparing for the event, I was well aware of the emails he wrote while at Stanford. I agree with Lee that they were unacceptable and demeaning to women. But I disagree with his unfair caricature of Spiegel’s visit.

Lee fails to understand why YES invited Spiegel. He mocks Spiegel as a “rich, successful male” who has “hundreds of enamored fans” that want to “bask in the glory of wealth and prestige.” At no point does Lee acknowledge Spiegel’s achievements that led to his renown: an app that transformed the mobile communication space; an idea that pushed technology to help not hinder the human experience; a team of three people that eventually allowed millions to instantly share moments with friends for the first time; spending his junior year summer doing what he loved despite the risk-averse attitudes of students at prestigious institutions; his conviction to pursue a startup career, which is not premised on the “culture of financial excess” Lee condemns; and the difficult decision to reject multimillion dollar acquisitions because Spiegel valued ownership over cash. For these reasons, YES invited Spiegel to foster entrepreneurship at Yale. And while some of the 400 students who attended may have come in order to see a famous person, all certainly walked out having heard these lessons from Spiegel himself.

Indeed, we all chose Yale in part due to its prestige, as Lee says. But I define prestige as the rare opportunity to learn from diverse sources of education. Even WLI, whose mission Lee implies has been compromised by Spiegel’s visit, aims to hear from people who have made mistakes — one of the speakers for the upcoming Leading Ladies Gala is a male, former sexist who will discuss his experiences in evolving from a sexist to a feminist. In the case of Spiegel’s visit, it is even more foolish to shun the speaker because of a specific, scoped-out scandal that lies entirely outside the educational merits of Snapchat’s success story.

Progress is impossible if we categorically reject an educational source because a subset of it is controversial. We bring role models into our lives because we admire their achievements. We are all smart enough to discern which qualities of those role models may foster progress in ourselves and which qualities may not.

Stephany Rhee

Nov. 13

The writer is a junior in Saybrook College and president of the Women’s Leadership Initiative.