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Joe Lonsdale event draws criticism, protest but proceeds as planned

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“Remember your values and your principles, and you’ll be really grateful,” said Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale ’03, who was seated across from a group of students protesting his very presence at an event hosted by the Stanford Federalist Society (FedSoc) at Stanford Law School on Tuesday.

Though Lonsdale’s advice was geared toward investing in Silicon Valley, his moral principles have been challenged since Elise Clougherty ’13 accused him of sexual assault, gender violence and sexual harassment against her in 2012, among other charges. He is six years into a 10-year ban from mentoring and teaching at Stanford, which the University applied after its 2014 Title IX investigation into the situation.

He was also banned from campus entirely at that time, but the ban was lifted in November 2015 due to “new evidence that came to light during litigation,” then-University spokesperson Lisa Lapin wrote in an email to The Daily at the time.

“Regulation in Silicon Valley” was the focus of Tuesday’s event, where Lonsdale discussed bipartisan initiatives in prison reform, healthcare and housing, as well as his own experiences in investing and the role of law in economic inequality. But his past missteps proved inseparable from his presence on campus.

When discussing his biggest mistakes, Lonsdale emphasized that it is important “who you keep around you, whether professionally or personally.” He referenced his relationship with Clougherty, though he did not name her, and acknowledged the signs of protest in front of him.

The protestors did not identify themselves and sat silently through the duration of the event.

“There was a time I was with someone for a year who — I was so busy — I didn’t really know them as well,” Lonsdale said. “It was a fun fling, and as it turns out, that’s not a good thing to do.”

The alleged abuse resulting in Lonsdale’s 10-year campus ban took place throughout a year-long relationship he had with Clougherty while she was an undergraduate and he was her mentor for the class ENGR 145: “Technology Entrepreneurship.”

Clougherty filed a sexual assault and harassment lawsuit against Lonsdale in January 2015. Lonsdale filed a countersuit for defamation in June 2015, just months before his campus ban was lifted. The respective lawsuits were settled in court under terms not disclosed to the public, according to The New York Times.

Despite the ban reversal, Stanford did not drop all accusations of misconduct against Lonsdale, as he is still subject to a 10-year ban from mentoring and teaching. That ban was applied “because Mr. Lonsdale and Ms. Clougherty engaged in a relationship and did not disclose it as per Stanford’s Consensual Relationships policy,” Lapin told The Daily in 2015.

Lonsdale declined to comment about Tuesday’s event when approached by The Daily afterward. Clougherty did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

An open letter urging FedSoc to cancel the event was drafted by Concerned Students of Stanford University and circulated via email last week. The letter had more than 200 signatures on the night before Tuesday’s event, including signatures from multiple campus organizations. The organization behind the open letter did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

“We ask that you reconsider this event, as having Lonsdale on this campus is harmful to survivors because it gives a platform to someone who does not take his violations of campus policy seriously,” the letter reads. “We stand in support and solidarity with survivors and urge the campus community to join us to think about the values that guests like Joe Lonsdale bring along with them to campus.”

Phi Kappa Psi (Phi Psi) house staff canceled an event with Lonsdale that was scheduled to be held at the Phi Psi house on March 14 following backlash from concerned students on March 11. Later that week, The Daily published an op-ed from several Associated Students of Stanford University representatives and other students who called for cancellation of the Phi Psi event, titled, “Stanford Doesn’t Trust Joe Lonsdale to Mentor Students; You Shouldn’t Either.”

Lonsdale currently serves on the board of advisors for the Stanford Global Projects Center, a research center focused on global financing, development and governance of infrastructure. Tuesday’s event was moderated by law professor Jeff Strnad.

In his comments on housing and prison, Lonsdale pointed to specific challenges such as private prisons and unavailability of housing land due to agriculture. Regarding healthcare, Lonsdale said the government needs to do a better job of pushing people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid to the more appropriate plan.

Many audience questions related to Lonsdale’s investing career. He mentioned “being a contrarian … fixing problems” and avoiding quick money schemes as some of the most important qualities of a good investor.

“Being willing to say ‘I believe this,’ even though it’s not something you’ve gotten from everyone around you — I think that’s the most important [quality],” he said.

Regarding the lack of diversity in venture capital firms, Lonsdale said, “There’s not nearly enough,” adding that “people you know sometimes are people that are a little more like you” and that this has limited the diversity of his own network.

Third-year law student Bebe Strnad, the FedSoc member who introduced Lonsdale at Tuesday’s event, told The Daily afterward that she was not expecting so much pushback. The FedSoc event was planned prior to the cancellation of the Phi Psi event.

“We didn’t really see him as that controversial,” Bebe said. “Obviously people have other reactions, and we’ve been listening and trying to figure out ways where we can coexist and respect each other and create a space where everyone feels welcome, including people who do want to listen and engage with the wonderful work that Mr. Lonsdale is doing, especially around the Bay.”

Bebe hopes Tuesday’s event proves it “is completely possible” for students to invite speakers to campus without disruption, while at the same time allowing other students to protest peacefully.

“I thought it was wonderful that we were able to — in one room — have people voice their opinions respectfully against the speaker and also at the same time respect everybody else’s wishes to really ask questions [and] really engage,” Bebe said.

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Holden Foreman '21 is The Daily's Executive Editor. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying electrical engineering, computer science and economics. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.