Harvard University has rescinded its offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland survivor and conservative teen activist due to racist comments he made several years ago in group chats with other Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School students.
Screenshots of the offensive statements surfaced about a month ago when Kashuv's critics in both lefty media and far-right circles teamed up to destroy him. Kashuv acknowledged responsibility for having once been a "petty, flippant kid" but explained that subsequent events—including the mass shooting that killed many of his teachers and classmates—forced him "to mature and grow in an incredibly drastic way." The comments were all made before the shooting, and before Kashuv became a nationally-recognized conservative figure, Second Amendment advocate, and coordinator for Turning Point USA. (He has since left the group.)
Kashuv had planned to attend Harvard in fall 2020 after completing a gap year, but shortly after his past racist comments became public, administrators advised him that his acceptance could be withdrawn "if you engage or have engaged in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character." He was asked to provide a full explanation for his behavior, which he did. He also emailed Harvard's Office of Diversity Education and Support, vowing to make amends. This office told him "we appreciate your thoughtful reflections and look forward to connecting with you upon your matriculation in the fall of 2020."
Alas, it was not to be: The dean of admissions decided to rescind Kashuv's admission.
A spokesperson for Harvard told Reason that the university does not comment on the admissions status of individual applicants. Harvard is a private institution, and is within its rights, of course, to change its mind about admitting a specific student in light of new information.
Nonetheless, this decision is troubling. For one thing, it represents a major victory for the online mobs of cancel culture. One way to discourage Twitter trolls from dredging up old dirt on their enemies would be to ignore them. By giving the bullies exactly what they wanted, Harvard has only emboldened them. Indeed, gun control activist David Hogg—a fellow Parkland survivor—is currently a trending topic on Twitter, in part because some on the right would like to find a basis on which to argue that Harvard should de-admit him as well. (Inappropriate and conspiratorial claims that Hogg isn't smart enough have occasionally flooded social media.)
Harvard's decision here is also an endorsement of the position that people should be shamed and punished for their worst mistakes as kids. But moving forward, as technology gives everyone the ability to record every moment of our lives, this will be an untenable position—all embarrassing moments will be preserved forever, available for re-litigation. This is excessively punitive, and counterproductive to the healthy socialization of young people. Kids are not perfect: They must be given the opportunity to fail, and to learn and grow from their errors.
"As personally painful as this is right now, I'm concerned about the impacts this has on the broader conversation," Kashuv told Reason. "It makes it a lot less probable that people will apologize for past wrongdoings. Even more so, it's about whether the core educational principles that one can grow, can change, can mature are still intact or if past mistakes brand you as irredeemable."
No one is entitled to placement at Harvard, and if you say racist things to people, you should not be surprised when someone calls you out. But, as with the efforts to cancel James Gunn, Kevin Hart, Sarah Jeong, Kyler Murray, and so many others, we should be concerned about where this corrosive impulse to seek and destroy is leading us.