Fired Google Memo Writer Took Part In Controversial, 'Sexist' Skit While At Harvard For Which Administration Issued Formal Apology 

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.

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Comments

    "two sources attributed the backlash to the performance not to any malice on the part of Damore, but instead to his awkward delivery".

    So really the title of this article should be more like; Google Memo writer so bad at delivering jokes the Harvard administration had to issue an apology.

      I feel like I should be posting George Carlin and Stephen Fry memes here. But's kinda pointless, the people who need a sense of humour won't get the jokes and will instead see them as some kind of sexist attack :(

    If we relied on what offended American college students as our guide for what we can and can't say, we would all be silent.

    Although the writer of the memo may have had some misconceptions and tended to generalise people belonging to certain demographics, him being fired proves his point. I didn't find the language of his memo threatening or offensive (remembering that for the most part, offense is taken, not given).

      He emailed his workplace, talking at length (10 pages!) about women being less suited for STEM jobs overall, which seems pretty......biased.

      I think it's rather justified for Google to take action.

    Sounds like digging for dirt really. The memo was stupid but so is this sort of thing.

    So really, we don't know what was actually said or done, or who it offended, or how. Just "sources" saying it was sexist and offended people.

    So really, there's no story here right now.

    What exactly is being offended by a joke? Does it mean that you don't recognise it as a joke and took the comments seriously or that the joke was merely a vehicle for some point of view that you disagree with?

    That being said, (to my shame) I've laughed at jokes that I would never repeat in public.

    As mentioned before, we don't know exactly what has occurred here and probably never will. This story is interesting because it raises the question of "Should Google be allowed to sack employees who act against it's diversity policy. " I say Yes they should, those who are anti-diversity say No.

    So people are on a Witch-hunt for this poor guy now just because he has an opinion? Maybe his thoughts were misguided, potentially wrong, but surely you shouldn't be fired just for having and expressing said opinion... That's messed up. Why don't we all just wrap ourselves in bubble wrap and pretend everything in the world is perfect.

      Well your opinion is invalid because you are biologically incapable of having a rational one :P

      See being an asshat in public should have consequences..

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