Racist Harvard Law Email: The Cat Fight That Turned Into a National Scandal (Updated)

Last week, we introduced you to Stephanie Grace, the Harvard Law student who wrote an email suggesting blacks were inherently dumber than whites. New details have emerged: a feud over a boy, a backstabbing friend, and a campaign of sabotage.

Here's how Stephanie Grace's racist email went from the in-boxes of a couple friends last year to the pages of the Boston Globe:

According to several sources, it started six months ago. In November 2009, Stephanie Grace (above left) and two friends were having a conversation in the cafeteria at Harvard. One of these students was fellow 3rd-year law student Yelena Shagall (above right), author of some racially divisive newspaper editorials herself. (We'll get to those later.) At the time, the three were close friends and regularly had heated discussions about controversial subjects. That day, we're told, the topic was affirmative action. They discussed. Afterward, Stephanie apparently had additional thoughts regarding the possible genetic inferiority of black people, which she could not stop herself from typing into a computer and emailing to her friend Yelena and the other friend: She said she could not rule out "the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent."

If that had been the end of it, Stephanie Grace might have made her way to her high-profile federal clerkship with California Cow Porn Judge Alex Kozinski this summer without incident. But Stephanie and Yelena had a falling out last week, we're told. We don't know what the fight was about, exactly, but at least one mutual acquaintance is pretty sure it was about a boy. The Harvard tipster tells us:

Stephanie's close friend Yelena Shagall forwarded the email out after Stephanie confronted her because Yelena had slept with a mutual friend's ex-boyfriend. During this fight, Yelena told Stephanie she would "ruin her life."

Yelena soon embarked on a mission. She began posting mean messages on pictures of Stephanie on Facebook. Unsatisfied, she apparently dug up the email and forwarded it to a few choice recipients—either directly to members of the Black Law Student Association or people she knew had connections to the BLSA. She wanted the now six month-old email to cause a splash.

It worked: Members of the BLSA passed the email among themselves, understandably enraged by the content. The legal gossip blog Above the Law caught wind of a scandal brewing and posted the email. Lots of blogs picked up the ATL post and the email—some, including us, the Huffington Post and the Boston Globe named Stephanie Grace as its author. The Dean of HLS issued a denouncement of the email. Students began contacting Judge Alex Kozinski, demanding Stephanie Grace be stripped of her clerkship. Eventually, Stephanie apologized to the BLSA. As the story broke, Yelena apparently changed her Facebook status to read "Karma ;)"

But here's the thing: A number of people have told us Yelena holds extremely conservative views on race herself. (She used to be an officer in the the super-conservative Federalist Society.) Skimming the op-eds she wrote for the school newspaper at the University of Illinois, Chicago—where she got her bachelor's—supports this. For example, Yelena wrote an op-ed titled "Racism plagues college admissions process." Reverse racism.

The same standardized tests are administered to all races. Everyone gets the same questions, the same time frame and the same tools to use for answering questions. That's equality.

There's no doubt students from more affluent families tend to do better on exams but this is simply because they are more qualified. Their test-taking skills are better honed.

Some would suggest that outcome to be an indicator of inequity, but it's equally incoherent to punish a student for affluence as it would be to allow that student entrance based on affluence if merit didn't measure up.

Nevertheless, Yelena launched her attack on Stephanie "under the guise of being outraged," a tipster tells us. But some people were annoyed by Yelena's duplicity as much as by Stephanie's racism. Commenters began trying to insert her name into the comments section of the original Above the Law post, and posters on the unruly law message board AutoAdmit Google-bombed her by spamming her name. (Currently, the third result for "Yelena Shagall" is a post from AutoAdmit explaining her role in the scandal.)

So, Stephanie Grace: Still racist! But also the target of a truly devious revenge plot at the hands of her ex-friend, Yelena Shagall. [We contacted Shagall several times by phone and email to get her side of the story; she has not yet responded.]

The main lesson here: Don't be racist. But if you really, really are—and really, really need to voice your racist thoughts—don't write them in an email to a devious friend who may later sabotage you. Simply find the nearest well and shout your racist thoughts into them; get it out of your system, and continue on with your bigoted life.

Update: In an email, Yelena writes that this blog post is "rife with factual inaccuracies":

This wasn't a catfight, or some sort of Machiavellian "mission" of sabotage. There was no fight over a guy (this isn't Mean Girls). I certainly didn't yell that I would ruin Stephanie's life.

Moreover, I didn't forward the e-mail to BLSA, anyone in BLSA, or ATL. I didn't agree with the comments made in the e-mail, but didn't imagine that any of this would get to BLSA or ATL. I have absolutely no idea who sent it to ATL (you do though), BLSA, or anyone in BLSA, and all I can say is that it wasn't me.

We asked for the real story, but she hasn't gotten back to us.

Previously:
Did a Law Student 'Cat Fight' Lead to Harvard's Racist Email Scandal?
Meet Stephanie Grace, the Harvard Law Student Who Started a Racist Email War
Harvard Law Student Starts Racist Email War, Will Clerk for Cow Porn Judge This Summer