Chris Mateer, Front Rush
A few weeks back, The New Yorker published an article regarding Harvard rescinding the acceptance of at least 10 freshman students due to online activity in a private Facebook group. The content posted in the group was undisputedly offensive, and far from content that any university would want to associate themselves with. Given the closed nature of the group, however, a debate was sparked online. Questions swirled regarding free speech rights for prospective students. Amidst it all, the ultimate question was whether content posted behind closed doors was free game for withdrawing admission to a university, regardless of how offensive. Not only prospective students but everyone on the hunt for an education or employment should learn from this incident.
Despite the debate over free speech, there is little gray area regarding whether the rescinding of admissions was within Harvard’s rights. A public blurb on Harvard-run Facebook pages states that admission can be withdrawn for any admitted student for any “behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.” There is no mention that this content must be public, and the content of the private Facebook group clearly violated this principle. This instance is not one that stands in isolation either. Just last year, a DIII men’s cross-country team faced suspension over an email chain that contained objectifying and offensive content. Although the chain was a private correspondence, it was eventually forwarded to administrators, leading to this disciplinary action. In both instances, prospective student-athletes relied on a false sense of protection among peers.
Both of these examples should drive a serious point home. Students have always believed that as long as parents, teachers, employers or coaches are not able to directly access content, then they are safe. The subtle Facebook name change is a common example of this, as well as making social media accounts private. Still, this all misses the main point. Whether through email, public social media, or closed groups, your name is attached to what you say and what you post. As tired and worn of a phrase as it is, everything online is there forever. In both aforementioned cases, it was peers who served as the whistleblowers for a toxic culture. When all is said and done, everyone should be willing to stand by their online activity, just like how you handle yourself face-to-face.