At least 10 students who had been accepted as members of Harvard’s Class of 2021 have already learned an important lesson about real-life consequences for online behavior. They had their offers of admission rescinded after the college learned that they had been posting wildly inappropriate memes on a private Facebook group.
Here, “wildly inappropriate” means any combination of racist, bigoted, sexually explicit, or violent. The group was meant as a Harvard 2021-specific version of a popular Facebook-wide meme-posting group, and its name changed a few times. Still, administrators found out about the group and its contents, and revoked offers of admission for students in the group.
A few examples of posts that the Harvard Crimson cites are posts referring to hanging a Mexican child as “piñata time,” and posts mocking sexual assault or the Holocaust.
These are all things that are part of common discourse on some terrible parts of the internet. Yet they are not part of common discourse at Harvard, or the administration doesn’t want them to be.
One student who was a member of the group explained to the Crimson that group members met in the main Facebook group for admitted Class of 2021 students.
“A lot of students were excited about forming group chats with people who shared similar interests,” she explained to the paper in an email. “Someone posted about starting a chat for people who liked memes.”
The meme group spawned another group for even more provocative memes, and it was posts from that group that made their way to admissions officials.
“The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics,” an email sent to students involved in the group and sent to the Crimson read.
Other offenses for which students are known to have had their admission rescinded include plagiarism during high school, or charges of sexual assault against a high school classmate.
For students, the question is whether the college should punish them for something that wasn’t posted in an official group. If the same content had been linked to the students elsewhere online, would the college have responded in the same way? What if it were under their real names, but not in a group with “Harvard” in its title?
“I definitely think that the administration made the right choice and I think that as an incoming student — we all have our group chats and everything like that going on — we all pretty much universally agree it was the right decision,” another incoming member of the class of 2021 told the Crimson.