Don’t ask Pepe the Frog to write you a recommendation letter. Ten high school students looking forward to their first year as Harvard frosh found their acceptance letters rescinded after school administrators caught wind of a Facebook group that shared racist and sexist memes.
It all started in the official Harvard Class of 2021 group, which shared Harvard-related memes and let classmates get to know one another before the fall semester starts. It’s part of an online trend that has taken school spirit and Ivy League rivalries into cyberspace, and is one of several school-specific groups that have cropped up at most Ivies. For example, another, similar Harvard Group is Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens, in which students (or the thousands of others that have joined, regardless of actually matriculating) share memes that riff on student life, Harvard campus culture, and rivalries with other elite schools.
Mostly harmless, right?
The ten students whose acceptance was revoked created another, smaller Facebook group, which the Washington Post reports was (at least for a while) called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” Participants recruited members within the Harvard Class of 2021 group, and the price of admission to their new “edgier” online hangout was the posting of a suitably obscene or offensive meme in the official class group.
A reporter for the Harvard Crimson student newspaper obtained screenshots of some of the memes shared within the second group, and subject matter included “mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children. 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.’”
While certainly disturbing, the content of “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” doesn’t sound all that different from the material posted elsewhere online by trolls, or even otherwise decent people with a dark sense of humor, like the subReddit dedicated to Offensive Memes. Even special snowflakes can get crass. Indeed, the Washington Post quoted a blog post by Erica Goldberg, an assistant professor at Ohio Northern Law School, who compared some of the memes involved to the popular party game Cards Against Humanity. “Even many good liberals love the game, precisely because the humor is so wrong, so contrary to our values,” Goldberg wrote.
It can be tricky to tell in an era in which a cartoon frog mutated into a hate symbol championed by white supremacists when a meme is just a meme, and when it’s symptomatic of actual racist or misogynist views. The margin of error for administrators trying to figure that out is further narrowed when the offensive memes in question are being shared in and affiliated with an official page set up by Harvard itself, especially when students acknowledge a good Ivy League meme group can sway the decision between Yale and Harvard (no, really). But as has been pointed out in many an argument within web forums and comments sections, free speech doesn’t guarantee you’ll like how other people respond to what you have to say.
(Via Harvard Crimson)