The UnHarvard Ten (Update)

There is a huge gap between intelligence, even brilliance, and stupidity. Ten students admitted to Harvard got caught in it, and their admission was revoked.

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat.

A handful of admitted students formed the messaging group—titled, at one point, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”—on Facebook in late December, according to two incoming freshmen.

In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.”

If you’ve ever stumbled onto Funny Junk, 4chan or any number of sites where the terminally immature do their utmost to achieve popularity amongst their peers, this might not seem particularly surprising or offensive, in the sense that these are not necessarily kids who are seriously racist, sexist or twisted. And yet, twisted memes persist, to which these stunted adolescents snicker.

What is wrong with them?

First, the notion that they could do this in a subgroup and not be noticed is utterly foolish. It smells of the infantile sense of imperviousness, that nothing they do will result in harm to them. This is the group of kids who, because they were so smart, so accomplished, got away with anything such that they lacked the capacity to believe that they would ever suffer consequences for their conduct.

Second, they didn’t grasp that anyone would take them seriously enough to be offended. They weren’t actual klansmen, crosses in hand to be burned. They were just goofing around, making “edgy” jokes. Memes, for crying out loud. Everyone knows it was just memes.

What is wrong with them?

They didn’t get it, that there are lines that you don’t cross, not even in jest. So what if there is a snarky, nasty, awful underbelly to the geek internet where the most outrageous and offensive is tested in some childish catharsis? What makes you want to go there, to do this? What makes your very smart yet very immature head go to places where outrageous memes are the currency of popularity?

It was not merely right of Harvard to take note of this happening under its auspices, but to address it. But that only deals with one aspect of this scenario. These students spent their lives doing the things that gets one into Harvard. They had the smarts to do so, and engaged in extracurricular activity the distinguished them from the tens of thousands of other brilliant students who were found unworthy. And poof, it was gone.

This was a teachable moment for Harvard. Not just for the ten students whose admissions were revoked, but for many others as well. And it’s a teachable moment for the rest of us as well, as these students are far more likely to be spectacularly immature than seriously disturbed. The lesson for the rest of us is that even the smart kids, the brilliant kids, need to grow up. Instead, the same forces that hate what they did enable perpetual immaturity.

The Crimson makes no mention of what will become of these students. Will they be able to attend their second-choice schools come fall? Will they be constrained to blow off a year? This will certainly alter their lives, but how much? Is revocation of their admission the message Harvard means to send to them? To others?

There are a lot of sick memes floating around out there, and a lot of geeks who think they’re hysterically funny, though politically incorrect, if not completely offensive. Harvard, which was well within its authority to revoke admission, will not rid its student body of kids who love memes. The brighter ones will take it underground, go the TOR route, delete their viewing history, but they will still engage in the same nasty stuff.

And then there’s the other message, the tacit message that most won’t consider but needs airing. Had this subgroup written about white genocide, like Drexel associate professor of politics and global studies George Ciccariello-Maher, would they have been tossed?

Ciccariello-Maher wasn’t fired for this twit. He was given the opportunity to explain it away, to rationalize why it was in furtherance of his vision of social justice. The ten Harvard rejects at least have a legitimate claim to abject immaturity. A professor does not.

So what exactly is the takeaway from Harvard’s decision to revoke the admission of these ten twisted minds? That indulging in childish offensiveness is wrong and intolerable? Sure. That it’s unforgivable? Clearly. That they are irredeemable and don’t deserve the opportunity to recognize the foolishness of their actions? Apparently.

But it’s also a message that it’s simultaneously acceptable for an academic to wish genocide on others, as long as it’s for the right cause. Or hit people with U locks if they support the wrong candidate. Or punch phony neo-Nazis.

The lesson isn’t that hate is wrong. Or that violence is wrong. The lesson is that hate and violence are perfectly acceptable, as long as they’re for a social-justice-approved cause by people mature enough and smart enough to know better. These were ten dopey children. Harvard sure taught them a lesson.

Update: Here is a link to the memes involved. Lacking context, I asked some younger folks what they thought of the memes, whether they were particularly bad. The response was they were “edgy, but fairly innocuous. Basic freshman shit.”

36 thoughts on “The UnHarvard Ten (Update)

  1. PDB

    How soon will it be that a kid gets his admission revoked simply for recommending Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, based on the homophobic bits?

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t condone what they did. I’ve seen 4chan and Funny Junk, and there’s a lot of really bad thing on there. It’s disturbing to me that this is where the geeky kids go for their kicks, and these are the things they find humorous. We should raise better kids than this.

      1. PDB

        Kids have been engaging in off color humor forever. Is the stuff on 4chan of such a worse degree of severity that it merits these kids having their admission revoked? I can’t imagine that the kinds of kids who jump through all the hoops necessary for admission to an elite college are the kind who are ready to plant burning crosses in front of peoples’ houses.

        1. SHG Post author

          I think this is a tougher question than that. What constitutes “off color” today is far more extreme than before the internet. Just as the grown-up crazies have found each other and devolved into self-reinforcing groups of ever-more empowered crazies, the same has happened to kids. It’s gone from off-color to very dark.

          That said, I don’t think these are seriously bad kids for whom revocation is the right answer. I think this was a teachable (didn’t that come across in the post?) moment and Harvard blew the opportunity to do so.

          1. PDB

            But it’s not like these kids were going around yelling jokes about the Holocaust or dead babies to everyone within earshot. They were in a private chat. They realized that they were only joking to people who had a similar sense of humor. Does there even need to be a teachable moment here? I’m sure these kids realize that 1) Holocaust/slavery/segregation/racism/etc. are wrong and they would never actually engage in any of that, and 2) they should keep their off color humor to themselves (which they were doing). What more needs to be taught? If someone felt the need to teach me something anytime I made a dark joke, I’d probably start throwing punches after a while.

            Also, this quote from an incoming student was quite disturbing to me: “there are so many topics that just should not be joked about.” I have a baby on the way; in 18 years, I want to keep her as far away from any college as possible.

            1. SHG Post author

              I hear you, and I appreciate what you’re saying. As I said, it’s a tough question. Sensibilities vary. There is a question about what makes the mind go to some of these dark places at all, which is why there is a question at all. While we share the same assumptions about the benign motives of the kids, bear in mind that we could be wrong and they might be more malevolent than we believe.

      2. Dragoness Eclectic

        And they should have kept it on 4chan, which allows (and the culture encourages) completely anonymous posting. Facebook requires “real names”. Why would you post stupid, offensive stuff under your own name unless you were actually stupid and offensive (or wanted people to think so)?
        If you are stupid and offensive, why does Harvard want you as a student again?

          1. Allen

            A buddy of mine had a horse like that once. That horse was so damn stupid it almost had a certain charm to it. I could watch him for hours trying to train that horse.

  2. Scott Jacobs

    Considering the inanity that we’ve been getting out of Harvard students lately, I’m not sure that revoking admissions is a punishment.

  3. Quinn Martindale

    Did you not buy the Drexel professor’s explanation that it was mocking fears of race mixing? The controversy was initially pushed by the same groups who used the term to mean that unironically.

    1. SHG Post author

      One guy writes about white genocide, and you say that the “controversy was initially pushed,” as if this writing was uncontroversial and only became problematic because of outside agitators?

      The point isn’t whether I believe him or not (even if that was his true, rather than conveniently rationalized and sanitized version of racist self-loathing), but that he was given the opportunity to explain it.

      1. Dragoness Eclectic

        White supremacists refer to whites marrying non-whites, non-white immigration happening, white people thinking any kind of non-white culture is cool, and non-white citizens having kids as “white genocide”. They are a very sad bunch, and their pathetic narrow-mindedness and panic over everything non-white deserves to be mocked. However, if you don’t know that context, and said professor had to know that not everyone who saw his tweet would know the context, it’s rather inflammatory and offensive.

        1. SHG Post author

          I kinda think the prof knew the context. Maybe even better than you, even though I certainly appreciate your dragsplaning white supremacists.

            1. Billy Bob

              Dragoness strikes again! Touche mon amore. She waits for the appropriate moment and moves in for the Kill.

        2. el profesor presente

          Maybe some of them aren’t really white supremacists, they just share Mr. Ciccariello’s sense of whimsical irony in their social observations. They’re real knee-slappers, those fellas.

      2. B. McLeod

        Some of the press coverage suggests that the UnHarvard Ten were also given some opportunity to explain their actions, but they were only allowed until noon the next day.

  4. Kell

    I read elsewhere that they did get a chance to explain.

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Tertiary links to the Crimson story in the post are bad enough, but at least avoid the insipid posts. The quote comes from the email purportedly sent out by Harvard admissions that included this:

      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.

      This wasn’t a legitimate opportunity to “explain,” which was already apparent from the “noon tomorrow” ultimatum, as the email also provided:

      administrators informed implicated students that their admissions status was under review and instructed them not to come to Visitas.

      In other words, it was a fait accompli. This was just CYA.

  5. Allen

    Children do stupid things, and as parents we try to keep them from being harmed by that stupidity. Maybe we’ve buggered it up and by overprotecting we haven’t allowed the real world to penetrate early and often enough.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s hard to do at all, and harder still to do effectively, without letting them totally screw up their lives.

  6. ElSuerte

    Its not a good idea to give license to social institutions to adjudicate private conversations. For one thing, it concedes the point that speech qua speech is inherently harmful. For another, the line for what’s objectionable speech is determined by the whims of the influential or whoever can can whip up the most outrage.

    How long until my career gets derailed because I commented on a blog where the blogger wrote “girls”?

  7. Anonymouse

    The lesson is, “Don’t get caught”.

    These kids should ditch college and run for office in the the NYC/NJ Metro area. Politicos there have raised corruption to an art form, and nobody ever gets caught unless they get TOO greedy. These kids need to learn the ropes before they go on to bigger and better things like … Harvard.

  8. Sacho

    Only approved comedians like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are allowed to joke about sexual assault! What were those students thinking? They probably don’t even have a permit.

    I agree that the real issue is that the humor was not used to advance progressive causes. Hopefully those students learn that next time, they should joke about men’s suicide rates and “male fragility”, or poverty among whites and those stupid rednecks that just don’t know better. Everything is political – a teachable moment indeed.

    I’m just glad Mel Brooks got to do all his movies before this brave new world order.

  9. John Barleycorn


    You fucking slut!

    Why this is on your teachable radar is beyond me, especially without the memes as posted! Posted up here…

    Stop reading “newspapers” and fuck the envy, not one of these students was of alumni is my guess.

    Cry the crocodile tears….and Fuck Harvard spread already!

    Wake up manhatain office holder!

  10. Pingback: Short Take: Send Them To Harvard? | Simple Justice

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