The actions taken by Kyle Kashuv, and the ubiquity of social media are troubling on several levels.
Eighteen-year-old Kashuv was one of the survivors of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. However, unlike his fellow students who have spoken around the country about the need for more restrictive gun legislation, Kashuv has become a very vocal gun-rights advocate. While it may appear surprising, even controversial considering what he lived through, there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, after Kashuv was accepted by Harvard, no easy feat, that acceptance was withdrawn after the college discovered a little something from his recent past that caused them pause.
What was troubling to Harvard administrators was the discovery of Skype conversations and online documents showing Kashuv using racial slurs when he was 16 years old.
As NPR reported (June 18), “According to a screenshot posted by Kashuv, William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions, asked him to provide a ‘full accounting’ of his racist statements and a ‘written explanation of your actions’ in a letter dated May 24.
“ ‘Three months after being admitted to Harvard Class of 2023,’ Kashuv wrote, ‘Harvard has decided to rescind my admission over texts and comments made nearly two years ago, months prior to the shooting.
“I have some thoughts. Here’s what happened.”
— Kyle Kashuv (@KyleKashuv) June 17, 2019
As reported by Huffington Post (May 23), “We were 16-year-olds making idiotic comments, using callous and inflammatory language in an effort to be as extreme and shocking as possible,” Kashuv said by way of explanation.
While it appeared to be a one-time incident, at least one former student suggested otherwise.
“ ‘Everyone knew him as the vulgar kid that says stuff like that, talked that way out loud,’ the former student who shared the document with HuffPost said of Kashuv. ‘He would talk that way to a lot of people. I don’t think he was trying to hide it or anything, I don’t think he was scared, I think he fell into that Discord, gamer guy that says those vulgar things.’
“A current student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who calls herself a ‘former friend’ of Kashuv also shared text and Skype correspondence the two had.
“ ‘[She] goes for n*****jocks,’ Kashuv said in a text message about another female student.”
“…in a second letter dated June 3,” NPR adds, “Fitzsimmons said that the admissions committee had voted to rescind his admission, citing ‘maturity and moral character.’
“Colleges have long-standing, if rarely used, policies of revoking admissions offers if a student is found to have engaged in questionable conduct. In fact, in 2017 a group of 10 students had their Harvard admissions revoked, also for offensive online posts.”
When I read this, several issues caught my attention, beginning with the students who reported Kashuv’s racist rants. One obvious question: why didn’t they report this behavior to High School administrators at the time?
Further, while there can be a big difference in maturity between a 16-years-old and an 18-year-old, in Kashuv’s case, there is just too much to ignore here, which is probably why Harvard withdrew their admission.
“I am no longer the same person,” Kashuv wrote to the school, “especially in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting and all that has transpired since.”
Kashuv also addressed a letter to the Harvard diversity office asking help in becoming a better person, New York Times columnist David Brooks points out. And on the basis that he is both sincerely sorry and looking for change, Brooks advocates that Harvard allow him into their school.
However, one aspect is missing here.
Kashuv must’ve sat through an interview for Harvard. While he may have answered many questions sincerely, the fact that he neglected to mention that his state of mind two years earlier had caused him to make a series of racist comments, he withheld a vital piece of his background that he had to know would come back to haunt him.
No one wants to admit to past bad behavior. However, Kashuv’s series of past conduct strongly suggests that he harbors racist beliefs, and that should not be acceptable to any school or organization. As as a private college, Harvard has every right to accept or reject anyone for such behavior.
Nevertheless, one choice Harvard administrators could have taken was to set aside Kashuv’s application pending attendance of a diversity class. If he is truly contrite, this could be a solution to his asking for help from Harvard’s diversity office. The college could then reconsider him based on an evaluation after he completed the course.
However, there’s another issue here.
Thanks to the pervasiveness of social media, like it or not, we are judged by what we say online. The Philadelphia Police Department removed 72 officers off street duty for alleged racist and offensive Facebook posts.
At one time or other, all of us have said or done things that would make us flinch when we recall them. In such divisive times, we need to practice both self-restraint and tolerance. Self-restraint from lashing out at those who may use hurtful language toward us. And a clear understanding that respect is a fundamental value that asks us to treat all persons – regardless of race, color, creed, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation – with respect, courtesy, civility and decency.
Anything less, should be unacceptable.