It was a 3-second Snapchat video made by a 15-year-old freshman who was excited to get her learner’s permit and sent privately to a friend. It would end up a catastrophe for Mimi Groves, but not by chance.
Ms. Groves had originally sent the video, in which she looked into the camera and said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and Mr. Galligan attended, but did not cause much of a stir.
Galligan was offended when he saw it. It wasn’t directed toward him, but it somehow wound its way around the school and ultimately onto his phone.
The slur, he said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.
Was this Groves’ fault? No matter.
So he held on to the video, which was sent to him by a friend, and made a decision that would ricochet across Leesburg, Va., a town named for an ancestor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and whose school system had fought an order to desegregate for more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.
Did Groves name the town? Did Groves lead the fight against the order to desegregate? No matter.
“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.
And he did.
Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.
The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.
Her acceptances at other colleges were rescinded. She was excoriated across social media. She was threatened with physical violence. Was that the lesson she needed to be taught?
Ms. Groves said the video began as a private Snapchat message to a friend. “At the time, I didn’t understand the severity of the word, or the history and context behind it because I was so young,” she said in a recent interview, adding that the slur was in “all the songs we listened to, and I’m not using that as an excuse.”
As for Galligan, who saved this Snapchat to be used at just the right time to teach Groves a lesson, and who is now going to college in California having made sure Groves won’t be going to Tennessee, he’s pretty happy with himself.
For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.
“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”
But before anyone thinks too poorly of Galligan for being a bit too smug about his viciousness, bear in mind that the New York Times told this story approvingly, just as sanguine about the hard lesson Groves needed to be taught, even if it meant destroying her future.