Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Harvard University’s resolution to revoke admission to students is sparking debate across the country. Ten students had their acceptances rescinded after playing an active role in a private Facebook group called “General Fuckups”.
In this group, participants shared obscene, distasteful memes about topics such as racism, suicide, pedophilia and the Holocaust. To be initiated into the group, the founders required that aspiring members post offensive memes in larger groups to prove themselves worthy of acceptance.
Harvard administrators discovered the “R-rated” content in April and promptly sent letters to 10 key contributors rescinding their admission. Officials say this decision is final.
A broad disagreement over First Amendment rights is at the core of this issue. What is okay to discuss freely and what isn’t? Does saying something privately carry the same weight as saying the same thing publicly? We are constantly redefining the answers to these questions.
President Trump’s tendency to disregard “political correctness” creates an environment in which citizens think it is acceptable to use “free speech” as an excuse to openly spread hate and aggression. It’s not a terribly great excuse for hatred and discrimination. Of course, one should be encouraged to freely express their ideas — this is America we’re talking about. But it’s harmful to spread ideas that threaten and scare others. We shouldn’t allow that to occur. That’s just human decency.
Many agree that Harvard’s decision was necessary and justified. However, some call for the institution to reevaluate its choice, saying students should not be judged based on their private conversations unaffiliated with the institution. They say it is a violation of privacy. Among these critics is Erica Goldberg, who once taught at Harvard Law School and wrote a blog post in opposition to Harvard’s decision.
“The idea that some topics are above humor is misguided. Humor is inherently subversive. By ferreting out the members of this private chat group, requiring that they present to Harvard every meme sent over the chat, and revoking their acceptances, Harvard has proven that there is an oppressive force to transgress,“ Goldberg wrote.
However, I commend Harvard for refusing to tolerate this behavior. Harvard set a precedent for the way institutions should handle racial and sexual injustices: with immediacy and an unwavering moral foundation. Harvard’s management of this situation should serve as an example for institutions dealing with similar issues.
For instance, University of Maryland recently confronted several cases of racism. News of white supremacy posters, frat house nooses and the tragic killing of a visiting African-American student circulated campus just this past year. Harvard’s decision shows that universities will not stand for racially and sexually driven crimes, offenses or assaults.
It let the world know that racism and sexism are serious issues on college campuses. It proved actions have consequences everywhere and for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic privilege. It set a standard that can be utilized to fight racism and misogyny across the country. I may be an aspiring meme queen who values free speech, but I wholeheartedly stand with Harvard.