When we talk to our friends online, typing can become a little boring. More often than not, we turn to memes to make our conversations more fun. But sometimes, sending the wrong meme can mean trouble.
At least 10 students who were admitted to Harvard University lost their chance to study there after posting offensive memes in a private Facebook group, the university’s student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, reported on June 5. Rather than just regular jokes, the memes “went to truly dark and ugly places, joking about Orthodox Jews, the Holocaust and gas chambers, Mexican children and suicide,” reported CNN.
The group was originally meant for would-be Harvard freshmen to get to know each other before they began university. But later, some students set up another group where they traded several offensive memes. When Harvard University found out about the group, it took back the students’ offers.
The incident has caused fierce debates, both in the university and around the world.
“I appreciate humor, but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,” incoming freshman Jessica Zhang told the Harvard Crimson. “I do not know how those offensive images could be defended.”
However, others believe the university overstepped the boundaries. “It sounds like Harvard is intruding too deeply into the private lives of students,” Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor, told The Guardian. “It may affect them for life.”
The university didn’t explain the decision to withdraw the offers, saying it doesn’t comment publicly on the admission of individual applicants. But one of Harvard’s own policies says it has the right to withdraw offers of acceptance if an “admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character”, according to the Harvard Crimson.
In fact, this is not the first time Harvard has dealt with a case like this. Last year, a similar Facebook group for admitted Harvard students drew criticism from the university after some of its members posted racist jokes.
Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang, himself a graduate of Harvard, said the university was right to punish the students. He believes that a world-class university should help students expand horizons, open minds and overcome bias, but the “privilege” that allows people to laugh at minority groups or mock tragedies will only strengthen stereotypes.
“The rescinding of their admissions was not only justified, it was necessary: Those spots can and should go to people who will make better use of them,” he wrote in an article for CNN.