A recent graduate from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who became a well-known school safety activist after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting there, received a letter last month from Harvard University revoking his admission over racist comments he had made when he was 16 years old. The student, Kyle Kashuv, now 18, provoked a new round of public scrutiny last week when he shared on Twitter his exchange with the university, including his letter asking the school to reconsider.
Screenshots of online conversations he had with friends two years ago began making the rounds on social media in late May, showing Kashuv using anti-Semitic barbs and racial slurs. He attempted to provide context on Twitter, posting a brief note of apology and explanation.
“We were 16-year-olds making idiotic comments, using callous and inflammatory language in an effort to be as extreme and shocking as possible,” Kashuv tweeted May 22. “I’m embarrassed by it.” He went on to describe how surviving the shooting forever altered his perspective and forced him to mature in drastic ways. “I see the world through different eyes,” Kashuv said. “I believe those I’ve gotten to know since know I’m a better person than that.”
Kashuv made the controversial comments in a Google Docs and text message exchange that was meant to be a private conversation among a group of friends.
“So if you say something terrible in a private chat room when you’re 16, then get outed by political opponents, Harvard tosses you?” tweeted Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire.
Robby Soave, associate editor for the libertarian site Reason, described Harvard’s response as excessively punitive and demonstrative of the “cancel culture” that has become so prevalent in society. “Harvard’s decision here is also an endorsement of the position that people should be shamed and punished for their worst mistakes as kids,” Soave wrote. “But moving forward, as technology gives everyone the ability to record every moment of our lives, this will be an untenable position—all embarrassing moments will be preserved forever, available for relitigation.”
Colleges rarely rescind admissions offers, but Harvard has done so several times in recent years. The elite school revoked offers from 10 incoming freshman in 2017 after discovering offensive images and messages the students posted in a private Facebook group. Those leaked posts included sexually explicit and racist material.
Harvard justified the 2017 revocation, as well as Kashuv’s, by stating that it reserves the right to withdraw offers of admission for behavior by an applicant that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.
“The committee takes seriously the qualities of maturity and moral character,” Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons wrote in a letter to Kashuv. “We are sorry about the circumstances that have led us to withdraw your admission, and we wish you success in your future academic endeavors and beyond.”
According to a nationwide survey of college admissions officials conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, more than two-thirds of them said that a prospective student’s social media profiles and posts are “fair game” in the college admissions process.
But what about the fact that what Kashuv originally shared was within a private forum and not part of his public social media footprint? Computational social scientist David Garcia says true privacy does not exist in the digital world. “We’re used to thinking of having a private space,” Garcia told ScienceNews. “We think we’ve got a room with keys and we let some people in.” But the minute we let friends into our personal space online, we lose control of our privacy, Garcia concluded.
Meanwhile, Kashuv is considering his options. He already intended to take a gap year with plans for matriculation in the fall of 2020. Following the Parkland tragedy, Kashuv became an ardent school safety advocate and rose to national prominence as a gun rights enthusiast. He plans to use his gap year to focus on school safety issues full-time.
With a final high school weighted GPA of 5.345 and an SAT score of 1550, someone in higher education is bound to snap him up.