Why universities need to do more to stop students falling into the Google Memo trap.

The story of James Damore, a Google technician who sent a memo to 40,000 of his colleagues detailing women’s supposed deficiencies for working in tech, has become a popular topic of millennial discussion. In his memo, he described the biological differences of women and men, highlighting these for women’s apparent weaknesses within the workplace. He then went on to complain of his frustrations with the equality measures enforced by Google, and argued against policies designed to make the tech industry appealing to women.

Whilst this story went viral, and Damore was subsequently fired from the internet giant for breaking its code of conduct, one frequent descriptor was used in the news articles that followed: Harvard graduate. His status as a graduate from a high profile college was a defining factor in the story of his discriminatory behaviour, inadvertently aligning the negative approach he took to the women in his industry with the university he graduated from. This association, as well as many others, illuminates the university experience as failing to do its job as a moral support system for its students.

Although many moves have been made to improve the equality and anti-discriminatory practices in the college system, with diversity becoming an unwavering stance across university boards and societies, the example of James Damore proves that more action is left to be taken.

“More employability services clearly need to be put in place for students nearing graduation”

Arguably, across UK and US campuses, the attitude that equality is automatic and assumed has resulted in a slower approach to change, as many students and staff will presume that the student body is one of complete liberal, left-wing morality. But, as illustrated by Damore, this attitude will not only enhance the isolation surrounding right-wing idealists, but will neglect to educate students like him on the complex issues of gender equality.

From an employment perspective, this also puts Harvard under a negative spotlight, as they too will be judged for poorly preparing one of their seemingly star students on appropriate behaviour in the workplace. Damore, a celebrated Google employee who may once have been discussed as a college selling-point, is now likely to be seen as the college sore spot, and a significant concern for potential applicants. In this instance, more employability services clearly need to be put in place for students nearing graduation, to help them understand that workplace discrimination is a sackable offence, and will not be tolerated in the modern office.

Increasingly, more and more universities are coming under fire on behalf of discriminatory behaviour on their campuses, with the most recent example being far-right white-nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. Students here were marching across campus in a ‘Unite the Right’ protest, which ended in violence and aggression and, unfortunately, a calculated lack of comment from the Dean of the University of Virginia. Whilst this incident runs on a different scale to Damore’s criticism, it still brings to light the issue that universities are not doing enough to condemn and prevent hate spreading across their campuses.

“Creating a platform for free, un-hateful speech should be something universities and colleges offer to all of their students”

With most hateful or discriminatory behaviour being drawn from isolation and excluded individuals, it is arguable that colleges and universities need to do more to tackle such issues. They should look beyond the student body as a whole and spend more time connecting with their students one on one, as well as providing that necessary platform for personal expression and voicing concerns.

One of the faults laid at Google’s feet is the lack of free speech operating within the company, the oppression of which inevitably led to Damore writing the viral memo instead of sharing his thoughts in a monitored, safe discussion. Creating a platform for free, un-hateful speech should be something universities and colleges offer to all of their students, to prevent these unnecessary and upsetting build-ups of anger and frustration.

Overall, the university experience should be a period of moral education, open voices and the introduction of new ideas and opinions. With the examples of James Damore and the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rallies highlighting their failure to do this, it’s clear that more needs to be done to allow students to feel noticed, and well-educated in the ideologies they form at university.

Nikki McCaig

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Image courtesy of Open Grid Scheduler on Flickr. Licence here.


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