Harvard rescinds admissions offers over offensive memes on Facebook

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    Harvard rescinds admissions offers over offensive memes on Facebook 

    At least 10 students admitted to college have lost their chance to matriculate after posts in private group joked about race, child abuse and sexual assault

    At least 10 students lost their chance to attend Harvard College after posting “obscene memes” to a private Facebook chat, the main Harvard student newspaper reported.

    The memes included jokes about pedophilia, child abuse, sexual assault, and the Holocaust. One message referred to a Mexican youth being hanged as “piñata time”.

    The memes were shared as part of a private Facebook chat where admitted students in the class of 2021 shared edgy jokes as part of a “just-because-we-got-into-Harvard-doesn’t-mean-we-can’t-have-fun kind of thing”, an admitted student told the Harvard Crimson.

    The paper quoted a number of students from the incoming class, who had a range of responses, including two who said it was the right approach to withdraw the offers. “I do not know how those offensive images could be defended,” one student said.
    Harvard rescinds admissions offers over offensive memes on Facebook
     The Harvard College campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At least 10 students have lost their offers of admission over ‘obscene memes’ posted on Facebook. Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP

    At least two Harvard professors, however, questioned the decision towithdraw the offers. Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus professor at Harvard Law School, told the Guardian that losing admission to Harvard was a “draconian punishment” for “very bad taste jokes that students were sending to each other”.

    “It sounds like Harvard is intruding too deeply into the private lives of students,” said Dershowitz, who has represented a series of high-profile clients, including OJ Simpson.
    “It may affect them for life,” Dershowitz said.

    Harvey C Mansfield, one of Harvard’s most outspoken conservative professors and the author of a book called Manliness, also told the Guardian he questioned the decision. “The bounds of what is offensive have been extended and distorted, and I no longer trust the bent judgment of politically correct enforcers.”

    A spokeswoman for Harvard University declined to comment on the report. “We do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants,” Rachael Dane wrote in an email.

    The official Facebook page for students admitted to join the Harvard Class of 2021 warns students that “Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character”.

    Dershowitz said this guidance was too vague to provide students with any real understanding of the school’s expectations. “When you punish a student seriously without articulating standards, I think it raises questions,” he said.

    While Harvard, as a private college, is not legally bound to respect the first amendment within its walls, it has long upheld the principle of free speech, Dershowitz said. “This is just the kind of awful, awful speech the first amendment is designed to protect,” he said.

    The Tab, a news site run by university students, published what it said were screenshots of the memes.

    A member of the Facebook group chat, whose name was not included in the piece, told the Crimson that the Harvard applications committee emailed students who were part of the group in mid-April, asking them to submit a statement “to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee”.

    A week after that, “at least ten” members of the group received letters rescinding their offers of admission to the class of 2021, the source told the Crimson.

    Last year, a previous group chat for admitted Harvard students sparked a public condemnation from university officials after the chat included racist jokes. The university would not comment on how many students who are admitted to Harvard have their offers of admission rescinded in a typical year.

    Meme-sharing Facebook groups have become a new college tradition, Mic reported last week, with students across the country trading inside jokes and fighting battles with rival universities via screenshot and caption.

    The names of some of these public Facebook groups, Mic reported, were “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens”, “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens”, “USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens” and “UChicago Memes for Theoretical Midwest Teens”.

    The private Facebook group chat that led to offers of admission being rescinded was named, at one point, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”, the Crimson reported.