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Admission Offers Yanked: A Social Media Lesson from Harvard University

June 5, 2017

On June 04, 2017, the Harvard Crimson posted an article about the university’s yanking its offers of admission for at least ten prospective freshmen.

It seems that Harvard officials had an eyeful of some ugly social media postings of these individuals– on an official Harvard social media site, to boot– and decided that these were not the kind of students Harvard wished to include among its own. An excerpt:

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes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.” …

Employees in the Admissions Office emailed students who posted offensive memes in mid-April asking them to disclose every picture they sent over the group, according to one member of the chat whose admission offer was revoked. The student spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be publicly identified with the messages. …

The anonymous student also said that administrators informed implicated students that their admissions status was under review and instructed them not to come to Visitas, Harvard’s annual weekend of programming for prospective freshmen held at the end of April. Roughly a week later, at least ten members of the group chat received letters informing them that their offers of admission had been withdrawn.

The description for the official Facebook group for the Class of 2021, set up and maintained by the Admissions Office, disclaims all administrative responsibility for “unofficial groups” and warns members their admissions offers can be rescinded under specific circumstances.

“As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character,” the description reads.

Thus, the nasty content came from a handful of students who were part of a larger Facebook group created by Harvard for the Harvard Class of 2021.

While Harvard officials did not identify the individuals whose admissions offers were rescinded (in mid-April, according to the article), they did clarify that the decision to withdraw these students’ admission offers “is final.”

It seems that these young people believed that having the admissions process behind them made them untouchable by any future social media hatefulness.

Not so.

Of course, this incident raises the important issue that there is more to *college readiness* than stellar grades or high standardized test scores.

Self-possession and human decency matter. One could argue that in the age of a prolific social media whose imprint likely can never be permanently erased, self-control and kindness towards others matter more than ever when it comes to an individual’s postsecondary and employment futures.

In January 2017, columnist Sarah Young posted this piece on Consumer Affairs. In it, Young wards college applicants of the importance of upstanding behavior on social media. An excerpt:

Good grades and high SAT scores aren’t all you need to get into college. To rise above the competition, you might need to give your social media accounts a good scrubbing.

Nearly 80% of admissions officers rank “quality of character” as an important factor in the decision making process, according to new research by The Social U, a company that analyzes social media data.

While glowing letters of recommendation may vouch for your character to some extent, your social media profile often paints a more honest picture.

“Colleges have their own brands to protect and reputations to build,” The Social U explains on its website. In an effort to ensure that only the highest quality applicants are sent an acceptance letter, 50% of admissions officers admitted to checking applicants’ social media.

Scholarship seekers and applicants with a disciplinary record may be more likely to have their social media accounts checked, says The Social U founder Julie Fisher.

Young’s piece is directed towards those who are hoping to be admitted to college. However, the June 2017 Harvard Crimson article underscores the possibility that students who had been already admitted as incoming freshman could have their offers yanked for post-admission social media maliciousness.

Students already attending college should also beware. Colleges and universities have student discipline policies, and many university policies already include discipline related to inappropriate social media postings, particularly if such postings are considered as cyberbullying or falsifying information/identity.

What is also noteworthy is that social media accounts that are officially associated with a college or university often operate under different usage conditions than do personal accounts.

This is no different than rules governing communications being sent via other university-owned devices, including PCs, tablets, land lines, cell phones, and faxes. In such cases, personal communications cannot be assumed to be private. Therefore, university students who send communications on their own personal social media accounts via university-owned equipment would do well to assume that the university has a right to access such social media communications.

Do not assume that magnificent test scores and impressive GPAs will override offensive social media behavior that can be tied to university property, including university-related social media accounts.

Remember the Harvard Class of 2021.

It is several students smaller now.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Higher Ed

One Comment
  1. And the Harvard administrators have clean hands? Oh, the hypocrisy.

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