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Harvard College Business Group Cancels Sponsorship With ICE Contractor Palantir After Backlash

The Harvard Undergraduate BGLTQ Business Society disinvited tech company Palantir from speaking at one of their events following student outcry abut the company's contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Harvard Undergraduate BGLTQ Business Society disinvited tech company Palantir from speaking at one of their events following student outcry abut the company's contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Undergraduate BGLTQ Business Society canceled a sponsorship with software firm Palantir Technologies last week after facing student backlash over the company’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HUBBS publicized the sponsorship with Palantir — which included an ethical decision-making exercise slated for Oct. 10 — over their email list Oct. 3. The next day, the organization announced they had canceled the event.

Palantir has faced criticism from both immigration advocacy groups and its own employees for its work with ICE in recent months. The firm supplies ICE with an intelligence-gathering system that critics allege enable agents to deport increased numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Hours after its initial email, HUBBS sent a follow-up message stating that several students had voiced concerns. At first, the organization announced it would donate any funds gained through the partnership to an immigration-related charity.

That evening and the next day, students criticized HUBBS over the Queer Students and Allies organization email list. The HUBBS board then responded over the QSA list saying they had changed their minds and decided to cancel the partnership entirely.

“When a member brought up Palantir’s relationship with ICE, we had initially thought we could allow them to come to campus and then donate the proceeds to an undocumented charity, but we recognize now that bringing Palantir to campus is harmful no matter where proceeds go and that it is unfair to students and antithetical to the diverse communities at Harvard,” they wrote over the email list.

“It was a mistake from the beginning and honestly board was deeply divided about whether to proceed with this sponsorship altogether even as of last night,” they added.

HUBBS’s board wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson that they regret the partnership with Palantir.

“We actually cancelled the event, and HUBBS will no longer be hosting it or working with Palantir as a sponsor until their work with ICE changes. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was hurt by the prospect of this event, and we hope our actions remedied the situation,” the statement reads.

The board issued the statement from an organizational email account and did not attribute the statement to any HUBBS members after multiple requests. Michael Montella ’21 and Catherine J. “Cate” Pinto ’20 are the co-presidents of HUBBS, according to the organization’s website.

Brooke J. Martin ’21, who sent an email over the QSA list calling on HUBBS to explain its relationship with Palantir, said she wanted to pressure the organization by bringing more attention to the sponsorship.

“I wanted to put pressure on HUBBS, quite frankly,” Martin said. “The goal there was to force HUBBS’s hand, and I think it did.”

Spokespeople for Palantir and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.

QSA co-Chair Angela E. Kim ’21 wrote in an email that the organization supports HUBBS’s decision to cancel the event.

“QSA is proud to stand with undocumented immigrants,” Kim wrote. “We appreciate that HUBBS listened to community feedback and decided not to partner with Palantir for this event. In light of this, we encourage students and organizations to be actively aware of the companies they choose to work with and support.”

College students across the country have taken issue with Palantir’s undergraduate outreach efforts in recent months. Palantir tried to host a similar “ethics tabletop exercise” at Duke last month, where it was met with student protests.

A petition calling on students to refuse job offers from Palantir has garnered more than 2,000 signatures from students attending schools including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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