In a story that’s sweeping the Internet today, at least 10 students who received acceptance letters to Harvard this fall have had them officially revoked by the university, according to The Harvard Crimson — and the reason why is stirring up some major debate.
According to the university paper, the students in question had started a private Facebook group for incoming freshman last December, which they reportedly named “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”
As its not-so-innocent name suggests, the group chat quickly turned dark. The Crimson reports that it wasn’t long before some students began trading “sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups” on a private Facebook chat. And things took an even more disturbing turn when one member suggested they create a spin-off group dedicated to particularly offensive memes. But not just anyone could get into the group — first, you had to post a super offensive meme to the original group, to see if you’d even qualify. (Yes, really.)
The Crimson describes the posts that followed as highly offensive, featuring images that mocked sexual assault, the Holocaust, and even the deaths of children. And as if that wasn’t horrifying enough, some of the memes “joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups.”
Even without seeing the memes themselves, I’m not sure how those descriptions can leave you feeling anything other than shocked and outraged.
As the mother of teens and tweens who are constantly buried in their smartphones — and basically knee-deep in social media at all times — I have had countless talks with them about cyber bullying, not getting into chats with strangers, and being very aware of what you post on social media — because once you cross the line, you can’t take it back. But this is on another level.
No one out there thinks their child would do something this deliberate or hateful, but we’re seeing first-hand all the time how Internet culture can often foster this kind of behavior, by de-personalizing the whole experience. (Because sharing the meme isn’t as bad as making the meme … right?)
But to those who argue that Harvard’s response was too harsh, I’m sorry — I just can’t agree. This was about far more than just a few students posting some jokes and having fun. This was hateful. This was racist. This was misogynistic. And this was intentional.
Making jokes about sexual assault and openly ridiculing a minority group in the name of “humor” isn’t only a huge red flag about a person’s psyche, it’s a gateway to unacceptable — and even dangerous — behavior down the road. And making a joke about watching children get tortured, and finding it sexually arousing? Honestly, it’s too disturbing to even fathom.
We all want our kids to be safe when they go out on their own for the first time, and every college has a hand in making sure their school is as safe as it can be. It’s no wonder then that after reviewing all of the content that was shared, the Harvard Admissions Committee decided that the students in question were not the kind of young people they want at their university.
And in the process, they’re sending a clear message that all of us should take to heart, no matter how old we are: Our social media footprint matters. So do the words we say and the things we share. (Yes, even when it comes to something as seemingly innocuous as a meme.)
I’m sure there will be plenty of skeptics in the coming days who will shrug at this news and say it was an overreaction. They’ll say that posting a racist meme doesn’t equate to being racist, or that it was all “in good humor” and that the university needs to lighten up. But I beg to differ. As a mother, I’d feel far better knowing that my college freshman, who is away from home for the first time right now, isn’t sleeping next to someone who agrees with that sentiment. Especially if the college knew about it and did nothing.
But I also firmly believe that if it was my child mindlessly sharing these memes — and making such disturbing comments — I would stand by the university’s decision to revoke their acceptance, no matter how difficult the fallout would be. Because sometimes, the greatest lessons are also the hardest to endure. But as parents, it’s our job to make sure they learn them.More On