After allegations of racism at Google, leaders from some of America’s top Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are meeting the tech giant’s CEO next week to discuss the future of the relationship between Black students and the company.
The concerns stem from allegations of two former Black Google employees who described their experiences of working with the company and, at least in the case of one, how it led to their departure.
Allegations Against Google
Timnit Gebru, who worked as an artificial intelligence (AI) researcher at Google, reportedly left the multinational after wrangling over an AI ethics paper she wrote with six others, including four Google employees.
The paper was critical of the environmental costs and embedded biases of large language models used to train AIs at Google.
Google reportedly wanted Gebru to withdraw the paper from a 2021 industry conference or remove the names of the Google employees.
Gebru responded by writing that she would retract the paper if her superiors met a series of conditions. Otherwise, she said, she would plan to resign after a transition period.
After that, Gebru said she received an email from her manager saying her resignation had been accepted, despite Gebru not resigning.
Apparently my manager’s manager sent an email my direct reports saying she accepted my resignation. I hadn’t resigned—I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation. But I guess she decided for me 🙂 that’s the lawyer speak.
— Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) December 3, 2020
Google and HBCUs
Meanwhile, April Curley, another former Google employee who worked as a diversity recruiter, said she was fired from the company in September last year. Without giving out the specific reason for her departure, Curley tweeted a series of allegations against the company.
“The reason Google never hired an HBCU student straight out of undergrad into one of their key engineering roles is because they didn’t believe talent existed at these institutions – until I showed up,” she wrote.
“In many instances, Google engineers who were interviewing HBCU candidates would leave demeaning and absolutely insulting feedback about students which would ultimately result in a rejection at the hiring committee stage.”
On September 11, 2020, I was terminated from Google. Even having to type those words still feels fucking awful. I’m admittedly still processing and working through all of the emotions that surround being fired from my whole ass job.
— Real Abril🌈 (@RealAbril) December 21, 2020
Curley alleged her superiors thought HBCU computer science grads lacked the technical skills needed to work at Google. Curley further alleged the company had not “hired a single HBCU student into a tech role” before she joined the firm in 2014.
She further claimed to have helped the company hire “over 300 Black and Brown students from HBCUs” in engineering roles in six years.
Google has not revealed the reasons for Curley’s departure, nor has it commented on her allegations. The company also maintains that Gebru resigned on her own.
Concerns of Black College Leaders
The departures have raised serious concerns among HBCU administrators.
“We were not willing to stand by on this issue and let it go,” Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson told CNN.
“When our students have the opportunity to go into the world of work and the world of work has an opportunity to work with our talented students, it’s important they are provided an environment that is appreciative and respects who they are, their talent,” he continued. “It’s not going to be sustainable otherwise.”
Apart from Robinson, presidents from Howard University, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, and Baltimore’s Morgan State are also set to attend the virtual meeting with Google’s CEO on January 29.
All these schools have academic and career development relationships with Google.
“We obviously have a relationship with Google that we want to make sure is the right kind of relationship and the right environment,” said Howard University President Wayne AI Frederick to CNN.