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Harvard cancels admission offers to 10 students who shared obscene and racist memes

Decency wins out over great SAT scores as university officials take a strong stand against jokes about the Holocaust, child sexual abuse, and ethnic minority groups
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   06-06-2017
Harvard campus with red banners hanging from green trees for graduation, and people walking about
Harvard campus at graduation time (file photo by EllenSeptember, used under CC license)

Harvard has withdrawn admissions offers made to least 10 applicants, because of sexually explicit and racist memes and messages they posted in a private Facebook group chat.  The students would have graduated with the Class of 2021. The messaging group was formed in late December, according to two incoming freshmen, The Harvard Crimson reported on Monday.

Students in the group reportedly exchanged memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, The Crimson reported. It noted that some messages in the group joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, The Crimson reported, Harvard College administrators revoked admissions offers to at least 10 participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group. University officials have said Harvard’s decision to rescind a student’s offer is final.

The Crimson report quoted college spokesperson Rachael Dane as saying in an emailed statement on Saturday that “we do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants.”

The Crimson report said the chat grew out of a roughly 100-member messaging group that members of the Class of 2021 set up in early December to share memes about popular culture. It said admitted students found and contacted each other using the official Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group.

The Crimson quoted incoming freshman Jessica Zhang as saying, “A lot of students were excited about forming group chats with people who shared similar interests. Someone posted about starting a chat for people who liked memes.” Zhang reportedly said that the messages in the original group were mostly “lighthearted”, and although she did join the split-off meme group chat, she did not post there, and her admission offer was not rescinded.

The Crimson reported another incoming freshman, Cassandra Luca (whose admission offer was also not rescinded) as saying that some members soon suggested forming “a more R-rated” meme chat. Luca reportedly said the founders of the “dark” group chat demanded that students post provocative memes in the larger messaging group to ‘prove themselves’ and gain admission to the splinter group.

The Crimson report said the Admissions Office emailed students who posted offensive memes in mid-April, asking them to disclose every picture they sent over the group, according to a student whose admission offer was revoked. The student did not want to be identified as they did not want to be publicly identified with the messages, The Crimson noted. The Admissions Office’s email to the implicated students reportedly expressed disappointment and said, “As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee.” Subsequently at least 10 members of the group chat received letters informing them that their offers of admission had been withdrawn.

While Luca said she had mixed feelings about Harvard’s decision, other members of the Class of 2021 said they strongly supported the Admissions Office’s decision, The Crimson report said. It added that this incident marked the second time in two years that Harvard had dealt with such a situation, as some members of the Class of 2020 had traded racist and sexist jokes in an unofficial class GroupMe chat last spring, prompting College Dean Rakesh Khurana and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons to issue a joint statement condemning the students’ actions. But administrators had chosen not to discipline members of the Class of 2020 who wrote the messages, The Crimson noted.

This year, 2,056 (5.2%) applicants to the Class of 2021 were accepted out of a total of nearly 40,000 applicants, and roughly 84% of admitted students accepted their offer.

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