The Frenemies Behind Harvard Race Email Scandal

Last week, the interwebs frothed over an email written by a Harvard Law student who is a member of their famed Law Review. The author of said email wrote that she could not rule out “the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” It’s a statement even more extreme than the one that got Larry Summers in deep doo-doo a while back. This email was forwarded to the website Above the Law and while they kept the writer’s name under wraps, other websites began to identify the author as third-year law student Stephanie Grace. (Above, on the left.) Harvard top brass quickly denounced the email and folks started petitioning the judge Grace was set to clerk for to make sure she didn’t get the position.

So how did this whole nasty thing start? Supposedly, with one friend confronting another about sleeping with a third friend’s ex-boyfriend.According to Gawker, here’s what happened. Stephanie Grace and Yelena Shagall (right) were friends who liked to engage in controversial debates over dinner. Six months ago, they and a few others had a big affirmative action discussion, after which Grace was so riled up that she went home, penned this email, and sent it to everyone who’d been a part of the conversation.

Nothing happened for months. Until last week when the two ladies got into a fight after Grace confronted Shagall about sleeping with a friend’s ex. Allegedly, Shagall told Grace she would “ruin her life.” Shagall forwarded this email to members of Harvard’s Black Law Student Association, who in turn were enraged and sent it on to Above the Law. The scandal snowballed from there.

Now, this doesn’t at all defend Grace’s obviously bigoted words—but she did say “possibility,” which doesn’t exactly signal a woman resolute in a belief. If this story is true, there might be a much larger context to her email that would take it from horrifying to simply really, really nasty. Gawker also points out that Shagall often wrote op-eds for her undergraduate newspaper about affirmative action, and that she was very conservative on racial issues herself. So it’s a case of “pot, meet kettle.”

Apparently, as this whole scandal unfolded, Shagall updated her Facebook status to read, “Karma ;)” Ah, mean girls.