Diversity, Elitism and Racism, when Google expelled a student from GSoC

In October 2016, one of the administrators of Debian's Outreachy program informed the Debian Project Leader (DPL) and a volunteer mentor that his girlfriend would apply to the volunteer's project. Four days later her application was withdrawn. If the DPL had any discussion with those people, it was done behind the volunteer's back and he didn't see it.

We were reminded of this on Friday when France's grandes écoles were in the news again. It has been argued that these schools separate the ruling class from the rest of society. In negotiations with the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement, President Macron had agreed to shut them down, he has subsequently decided to offer diversity scholarships to underrepresented groups.

Our previous GSoC/Outreachy admin and his girlfriend were French. They had both met during their time in one of these grandes écoles, ENS Cachan. As reported in the article, over seventy percent of people in grandes écoles have parents with a similar education and social class.

In this intellectual class, people struggle to relate to the outside world. President Macron graduated from the most prestigious of these schools. In 2018, at the height of the gilets jaunes conflict, it became clear how he was struggling to understand the working class when he made an appeal for calm while sitting at a golden desk.

In Debian, people gave said couple the benefit of the doubt.

President Macron, golden desk

When something like that happens, it sets a precedent in the culture of the organization. Or does it?

In 2018 Debian faced a very similar challenge involving an application from a student. We decline to identify the student. Nonetheless, in discussion with the admin team and other mentors, the same volunteer informed people how Debian handled the case in 2016.

When Stephanie Taylor at Google found out about this relationship, she was absolutely furious. Everybody up to the DPL feigned amnesia, nobody could remember how Debian applied this logic to distinguished volunteers from the grandes écoles. It was purported that this was the volunteer's personal policy. The volunteer never advocated for such a policy, he simply explained this is how Debian handled it last time.

This was one of those cases where people with sinister motives play word games, cutting and pasting your words into something you never wrote.

Before asking any questions, Stephanie Taylor immediately expelled the student from the program. Why was there such a dramatic difference beteween the handling of the case in 2016 and 2018? Why did the Debian Project Leader cover up the 2016 case? This is the us-and-them mentality that separates social classes. Sinners in your class have a get-out-of-jail-free card. People draw the wagons into a circle and defend their own. This is why the gilets jaunes call for the grandes écoles to be closed, for the students of every social class to study together in the larger public universities.

For anybody who is sincere about diversity in any organization, there are important lessons to be drawn from each of these cases.

Indian flag half mast

Why did Taylor act so dramatically, shoot first and ask questions later? In the latter case, the student was not from a grande école, they were from India.

When you make a judgment about somebody without gathering evidence first, that means you are showing contempt for their status as human beings. Arbitrary punishment like that is well within the definition of harassment. Take a moment to empathize with how each student felt, the French student and the Indian student: the Indian student would have felt a lot worse after an experience like that. When such a dramatic difference occurs, the implication of harassment could well be racial harassment.

Standing up for the same precedent, that our contributors from India should be treated to the same rules as contributors from grandes écoles doesn't mean we endorse those conflicts of interest. We don't. The volunteer resigned in disgust, immediately after GSoC 2018 finished. Google continues to attack him to this day. Nonetheless, when we look at the difference between these two cases, we feel that talk about diversity is just window dressing and whenever a challenging situation occurs, impatience and intolerance reigns.

Disclaimer: we were not party to any personal relationship with the students in this blog post, in fact, we never even met them.