College acceptances are pleasant news in the college advising world, even when the stories are not about the students that you advised. We especially root for those who have truly worked hard to get into their “dream school,” and we do not like to hear that someone made a mistake towards the end of their senior year that cost them that opportunity.
It’s fascinating to read recent stories about Harvard’s decision to revoke admissions to ten high school students because of comments that they made on a private Facebook page. That page, where admitted students posted offensive memes, came from a Facebook group that had formed from the university’s Class of 2021 Facebook page. This student-initiated spinoff group allowed for public and private comments on their page. That group had 100 members.
College acceptances can be revoked for several reasons, the most common being poor academic performance. Criminal behavior and misinformation on the college application are two others. Social media misconduct could be, when a school has a Code of Conduct that would apply to admitted students who have deposited for the coming academic year. Violate that code by posting explicit images or offensive comments in public places, or at least places where admissions offices are likely to learn of them, and you can be denied admission.
In Harvard’s case the university was given the opportunity to revoke admissions when the admissions office became aware of private information in a private group of students admitted into the next freshman class. The admissions office asked every participant to disclose comments and pictures they shared, and explain the reasons for their participation.
Some might argue that the student’s comments were “protected speech,” especially since they were made outside of the university’s online community. But it might also be argued that Harvard provided the opportunity for these students to interact as they did by having a Class of 2021 Facebook page—and that the admissions office felt responsible for the actions of the admitted students who took the wrong advantage of that opportunity. A university admissions office creates a Facebook page to help bond, rather than divide a future student community before they come to campus. Harvard’s admissions office separated those students they believed to be the most divisive.
The most offensive offenders are all likely to find another college that will quietly welcome them in the fall or next spring. The real losers in this were the classmates who might have felt that they were the focal point of their comments. While they will be glad that the most offensive voices will not be joining them in the Harvard Class of 2021, they have to be worried about how they will be treated by the other 90 members of that private Facebook group when classes convene this fall.
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