Kyle Kashuv deserves some sympathy. But that’s about all.
Some context: Harvard University has rescinded its offer of admission to Kashuv, an 18-year-old Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivor and conservative activist, after screenshots of slurs and racist language from 2017 or early 2018 made their way online.
In one message, a then-16-year-old Kashuv complained about how a female classmate at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School preferred “N-----jocks” (sexually, the limited context suggests), and in another wrote “Kill all the f---ing Jews.” In a shared Google document being used as a class study guide, he repeated the N-word 11 times, writing that “practice uhhhhhh makes perfect.”
Perhaps this is just a kind of youthful folly that Kashuv has now outgrown. But it is certainly a kind that stands out.
When his comments surfaced in May, Kashuv wrote a statement acknowledging that he had used “callous and inflammatory language,” and, while not actually apologizing, suggested that he had matured and grown. Later, when the Harvard admissions committee wrote to say that it had been made aware of his offensive statements, Kashuv responded in a much more robust manner, with a full apology and even an additional email to the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
It wasn’t enough. The school rescinded his admission.
So on Monday, Kashuv made the saga public via a Twitter thread that included screenshots of Harvard’s communications, his own replies and his reflections on it all. The thread ended with the eyebrow-raising statement that, “In the end, this isn’t about me, it’s about whether we live in a society in which forgiveness is possible or mistakes brand you as irredeemable, as Harvard has decided for me.”
Has it, though?
I feel bad for Kyle Kashuv. He is still young, after all, and having his college admission rescinded is surely disappointing, embarrassing and stressful. But do I think that it justifies so much Internet hue and cry, or that Harvard should reinstate his place in the class of 2023? Not at all.
The decision to rescind was not a plot to “crush [Kashuv’s] public reputation,” as David French wrote in National Review. After all, Harvard did not publicly advertise its deliberations; Kashuv shared the story all on his own. Nor does the decision illustrate forgiveness “withheld,” as Ben Shapiro huffed in the Daily Wire. Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending nothing happened. We don’t get to choose what accountability looks like.
“Wisdom comes through a renovation of the heart,” David Brooks mused in the New York Times, chastising Harvard for not taking a “truth-and-reconciliation approach.” But sometimes, feeling the consequences for your actions — even if you didn’t think said actions would be so consequential — is part of that internal renovation.
This is not a question of whether our society has outlawed forgiveness, whether educational institutions misunderstand childish mistakes or whether the academic establishment has it out for conservatives. The issue is that Harvard has standards for admission that include not making wildly offensive comments, and Kyle Kashuv’s behavior in high school failed to meet them.
We’ve all been teenagers; most of us managed to pass through high school without being known for our egregious racial slurs. And there are, frankly, many deserving students who would like to go to Harvard — other Parkland survivors, other reformed makers of racist jokes, a wide range of other outstanding scholars who are neither. Perhaps the university simply thought that its limited resources would be better spent educating someone else.
When it comes down to it, it’s not a death sentence to be turned away from the elite university of your choice; it happens to tens of thousands of teenagers every year. Even having one’s admission revoked is nothing new; in 2017, Harvard rescinded the admission of 10 students over similarly obscene Facebook messages. A college education is not closed off to Kyle Kashuv, neither is future success. The only person who has deemed him irredeemable is … him.
If anything, Kashuv’s setback may be the latest illustration of the hazards of growing up in a digital age: Things you have said or written in the past might have bearing on your future, and these complications may arise without warning. Certainly, I’m sympathetic to the fact that Harvard’s decision might have come as a surprise and as a disappointment. But I’m not so sympathetic as to suggest that the consequences don’t make sense.