Students at Carnegie Mellon University have made a scholarship fund for underrepresented students in STEM to protest the university for allowing the data mining firm Palantir to offer scholarships on campus.
In recent years, Palantir, the $26 billion Silicon Valley data-mining company has raked in tens of millions of dollars from contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)— recently sparking activist backlash on more than 30 college campuses around the country, including UC Berkeley, Brown, Duke, Stanford, and Georgia Tech, united under the banner #NoTechForIce.
On February 17, Carnegie Mellon emailed computer science undergraduates— inviting women and unrepresented people of color to apply for 20 $7,000 scholarships sponsored by Palantir that would go toward their education. The scholarships are advertised by Palantir to “celebrate and support” women and underrepresented students “who are beginning careers in technology.”
“At Palantir, we strongly believe that true innovation stagnates in the absence of representation, and it's our mission to contribute to meaningful growth and change within the technology sector,” Palantir said in an email sent out by Carnegie Mellon’s career services to computer science students.
In response, a group of Carnegie Mellon students who have been organizing around Palantir’s presence on campus for months announced on March 5 that they too were crowdfunding a $7,000 scholarship to give underrepresented STEM students options beyond Palantir.
“We’re fundraising the exact same amount—$7,000—to give to a student at CMU who is from a background underrepresented in tech, so that they can work this summer without being forced to associate with a company like Palantir,” the students wrote on their GoFundMe account. “We know that we desperately need more representation in Silicon Valley, but we know representation is meaningless if it comes at the expense of our communities. We will not play a role in enabling anti-immigrant abuses.”
“We are frustrated that people at Carnegie Mellon chose to pass [Palantir’s invitation] on without even a note about what work they do,” Maggie Oates, a third year PhD student in societal computing and an organizer of the scholarship told Motherboard. “It’s really wild that Palantir is out here claiming to support [Latinos] while creating tech that targets them.”
Four days in, students have raised nearly $3,800 of their $7,000 goal—including donations from prominent labor activists and former Google employees-turned-activists.
The activism on college campuses against Palantir heated up last fall when 3,000 students across 30 campuses (including 300 at Carnegie Mellon) pledged not to work for Palantir until it terminates with contracts with ICE—signing a petition circulated by the immigrant rights group Mijente. Later that month, Palantir cancelled an on-campus recruiting event at UC Berkeley after 700 students and faculty signed a petition demanding Palantir pull out of the session. Duke and Yale’s hackathons also dropped Palantir as a sponsor as a result of student backlash.
While other campuses have relented in part to student demands, Carnegie Mellon —which invites Palantir representatives to speak at campus events and recruits on campus—has yet to address student concerns. “They’re too scared to back down. They express a lot of informal sympathy and not a lot of guts,” said Oates, one of the organizers of the scholarship.
According to Oates, at least 70 Carnegie Mellon alumni have recently worked for Palantir.
Carnegie Mellon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.