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Denying Someone Admission to Harvard Over Their Use of Racist Slurs Is Not Censorship or “Cancel Culture”

I can't believe we actually have to say it but here we are.

Kyle Kashuv, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum

Last month, a number of racist messages written by Kyle Kashuv, an aggressively pro-gun Parkland shooting survivor who subsequently became a conservative darling and even met with Donald Trump, were made public. The screenshots were from texts and shared Google docs from about two years ago, when Kashuv would have been 16, and they were filled to the brim with racist slurs. The teen apologized (or rather, offered a “quick note” on the issue) on Twitter for his “callous comments,” saying he was embarrassed by them and that he’d grown and changed since then, in no small part due to having survived such a traumatic event.

Now, Harvard has rescinded his admission for the upcoming fall semester. In a series of tweets, Kashuv shared letters he exchanged with the admissions office. He says that he was asked to submit a written explanation of the leaked messages and any others that may exist. He did so, but Harvard apparently didn’t think whatever explanation he offered counteracted the messages themselves and the admission recission would stand.

Kashuv called Harvard’s refusal to acknowledge his growth over the last two years “deeply concerning.” He’s also using a bizarre line of but I’d fit right in with the past bigots and antisemites of Harvard, which might not be the best argument.

I am by no means going to defend Kashuv. His old texts are despicable and much more recently he gained the favor of the NRA and far-right figureheads by attacking his classmates. But he is still very young and hopefully in another two years he’ll be just as embarrassed by his current behavior as he says he is of his past actions. But what’s deeply troubling is the number of grown-ass adults rushing to his defense, holding him up as an example of “cancel culture” and “liberal bias.” A number of ultra-right figures (like Laura Loomer) have publicly supported Harvard’s decision. Others, not so much.

Even the New York Times has an op-ed from David Brooks who writes that Harvard’s decision “may reflect a misunderstanding of how moral character develops.”

“The Harvard admissions committee is the epicenter of the meritocracy,” he writes, seemingly without a trace of irony, as if no Harvard applicant has ever been considered on any qualities but their GPA.


Moreover, he writes,

Moral formation is not like learning math. It’s not cumulative; it’s inverse. In a sin-drenched world it’s precisely through the sins and the ensuing repentance that moral formation happens. That’s why we try not to judge people by what they did in their worst moment, but rather by how they respond to their worst moment. That’s why we are forgiving of 16-year-olds, because they haven’t disgraced themselves enough to have earned maturity.

But of course, we’re not forgiving of all 16-year-olds, are we? Not all teens have access to the same meritocracy. Not everyone is given the same opportunities, the same respect, or the same benefit all doubts.

Harvard is under no obligation to give Kashuv a place to work out his “moral formation” and it’s not discrimination or cancel culture or anything else of the sort for them to decide that the things he wrote–even in private–are antithetical to the image they’d like to present of their students or not conducive to the environment they want to foster.

(image: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.