Google fired software engineer James Damore yesterday after his 10-page anti-diversity screed went viral within the company. According to emails obtained by Gizmodo, and accounts from four individuals who attended a PhD program retreat with Damore, this is not the first time he offended his peers with sexist ideologies.
Image: Getty / Gizmodo
According to emails provided to Gizmodo, Andrew Murray and Tim Mitchison, the co-directors of the Systems Biology Program at Harvard — which Damore attended for two years before leaving the program and starting his career at Google — issued a formal apology to a number of students for a student skit performed at the 2012 Systems Biology Program Retreat. According to two sources, Damore was the primary performer in the skit.
In an email dated 15 October 2012, nine days after the conclusion of the retreat, Murray and Mitchison wrote that the skit “presented material that offended many members of our community” and emphasised that even in the context of a humorous skit, “targeting any group within the program that can be defined by gender, by ethnicity, by sexual orientation, or by religious orientation, is never acceptable”.
The stated purpose of the retreat is “to bring our community together to learn about current research in systems biology,” according to a description on the Systems Biology PhD program website. A photo reviewed by Gizmodo confirmed that Damore was present on the 2012 retreat, along with over 35 other adults.
A source who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they did not want their name associated with the current controversy surrounding Damore said that Damore participated in the writing, arranging, casting and performing of the skit, which they described as “sexist” in nature. According to the source, a short humorous skit is typically performed by students during the annual retreat, and while they described the skits as typically a “roast”, they emphasised that “the goal is not to offend”. Damore participated in the writing of the skit, along with other program students, but according to two sources, Damore was the primary performer during the skit when it was performed. The source noted that in the “particular year in which James played a role organising, [the skit] was particularly offensive to women”.
Three sources allege that Damore told what they characterised as a masturbation-related joke during the course of the performance, which fell flat and offended some in the audience. However, two sources attributed the backlash to the performance not to any malice on the part of Damore, but instead to his awkward delivery.
Multiple sources also allege that the skit was viewed as problematic among many individuals in the department and that a number of people were offended by the specific masturbation joke. The administration later issued the formal apology to the group for the skit overall.
An email with the subject line “Final Skit Brainstorming”, dated 4 October 2012, shows Damore emailed others in the program to finalise the skit and decide casting.
Over a year later, a final email dated 21 November 2013 and with the subject line “I’m Leaving Harvard” announced Damore’s departure from Harvard. In it, he said he “had too much fun [over the] summer”, referring to a Google internship he completed, and announced he would be taking a job at Google in December of that year.
When contacted for comment on Damore’s tenure at Harvard and any backlash related to the skit in question, a spokesperson from Harvard’s communications office responded, “As a policy, we do not comment on individual students.”
Andrew Murray, Tim Mitchison and James Damore did not respond to multiple requests for comment.