In a recent article, The Stanford Review implied that activists misled the community in campaigning for Phi Kappa Psi to cancel an event with Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale ’03. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It is undisputed that in 2012, while serving as a mentor in a Stanford class, Lonsdale violated Stanford Admin Guide Policy 1.7.2, which bans sexual and romantic relationships between teachers, including mentors, and undergraduate students. The policy serves to protect undergraduates from exploitation, unfairness
Lonsdale doesn’t deny that he violated University policy. In 2013, Stanford banned him from mentoring undergraduates for 10 years. Lonsdale was also separately banned from campus for sexual harassment, a finding that was later reversed. But the mentorship ban was never reversed and is still in effect today.
The New York Times Magazine meticulously detailed the misconduct by Lonsdale that led to the mentoring ban. Lonsdale first met Ellie Clougherty ’13 in 2011 while she was a sophomore. He subsequently asked her to meet for drinks in the fall of her junior year to learn more about her professional “ambitions.” In early 2012, Lonsdale asked Clougherty if she needed a mentor for a course she was enrolled in on entrepreneurship. Shortly afterward, Lonsdale was switched to become her official mentor. The Times reports that, during the class, Lonsdale had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Clougherty, which he failed to disclose to the University. One of Clougherty’s friends recounted to the Times how she felt uncomfortable watching Lonsdale treat Clougherty like “pretty wallpaper” at gatherings of male Silicon Valley executives. After their breakup in 2013, Clougherty sought counseling for physical and emotional abuse, and she ultimately left Stanford to finish her studies online. Lonsdale denies all claims of abuse.
The disparity in age, institutional and financial power between a famous 29-year-old billionaire and a 21-year-old undergraduate student is an alarming example of an improper relationship. The Times reports that other students knew about the relationship and found it upsetting. Regardless of whether this relationship was physically abusive, it was harmful to both Clougherty and other Stanford women, and a violation of University policy. Disturbingly, Stanford also learned that Lonsdale had dated another Stanford student after he stopped sleeping with Clougherty.
Lonsdale and The Stanford Review minimize the seriousness of Lonsdale’s offense. On March 12th, Lonsdale sent an unsolicited, rambling 1,007-word direct Twitter message to one of the students who organized against his appearance. The message stated in part:
“In my late twenties I met a bright model in her early twenties out in NYC whom I later dated for a year – and yes after we met, she was in a class I had been helping once a year for years where I was one of over ten advisors, and I told the professor about her ahead of time [but didn’t formally disclose anything which I later found out was wrong].”
There is a lot wrong here. Lonsdale sugarcoats his misconduct and minimizes his violation of Stanford’s policy. He never mentions the mentoring ban. His description of Clougherty as a “model” rather than as a student is disturbing, given that the Times reports she was a student and his direct mentee when they were dating. He then claims that “Nobody else accused me of anything.” However, the lack of additional accusers does not disprove the serious violation to which he has already admitted.
Clearly, Phi Psi should not have invited Lonsdale in the first place. A fraternity representative told The Daily that “the event was originally geared toward mentoring entrepreneurship.” At minimum, this violates the spirit of the 10-year ban. Nor should Lonsdale be given a platform to speak at the upcoming event featuring him at Stanford Law School (SLS).
Someone who is barred from mentoring students for misconduct should not be held up as a role model. In Lonsdale’s lengthy Twitter message to the student activist, he demanded to know if she believed that his “entire life and presence needs to be CANCELLED,” but this is a self-serving formulation. Lonsdale is just six years into his 10-year ban from mentoring. If he took his policy violation and consequent ban seriously, he would not push the boundaries of the restriction.
Lonsdale’s mentoring ban expires in 2023. In the meantime, there are many other alumni founders who have never committed misconduct by having prohibited sexual contact with a Stanford undergraduate. Let’s invite them instead.
Phi Psi members’ initial decision to host a mentoring event with Lonsdale, and his upcoming event at Stanford Law School, send a clear signal to undergraduate women and survivors that their experiences do not matter as much as the ability to promote alumni, and that they are not to be believed or taken seriously.
We are glad Phi Psi acknowledged our concerns and swiftly canceled the event with Joe Lonsdale. We stand in solidarity with survivors, and we urge all student groups to deeply consider the values they reflect when inviting guests to our campus.
Jasmine Sun ‘21,
Theresa Gao ‘21,
Sasha Perigo ‘17,
Shanta Katipamula ‘19, ASSU Executive President,
Kimiko Hirota ‘20, ASSU Co-Director of Community Centers & Diversity,
Maia Brockbank ‘21, ASSU Co-Director of Sexual Violence Prevention,
Emma Tsurkov, PhD candidate, ASSU Co-Director of Sexual Violence Prevention
This article has been updated to include further clarification on the definition of the Stanford Admin Guide Policy.