Typically, the status of your college application is not national news.
But when the college is Harvard, the student is Kyle Kashuv—a prominent teen conservative activist from Parkland (yes, that Parkland) who has met the President, and when the outcome of his application touches on the raging culture war surrounding politics and college campuses, then yes, it becomes national news.
Harvard’s decision to rescind Kashuv’s admission made major headlines on Monday. And since the whole situation involves moving parts and an-already-well-underway social media backlash, we’ve created a guide for you.
Who is Kyle Kashuv?
Kashuv is a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—the school that experienced the tragic shooting in 2018 that then lead to the national “March for Our Lives” movement.
Kashuv is himself a survivor of the shooting at the school, and he became famous for opposing gun control measures after the attack. He became the high school outreach director for the conservative group Turning Point USA, and lobbied in favor of a federal “school safety” bill that attempts to address the school shooting problem without gun control. He also notably has a large Twitter following.
These noteworthy extracurriculars, together with good grades and high SAT scored, earned Kashuv admission to Harvard earlier this year. However, in late May, a series of offensive comments he made roughly two years came to light. The comments include the repeated use of the n-word in private chats and Google Doc chats, as well as other racist remarks.
Kashuv, remember, is not a nobody. He’s a survivor of a tragic school shooting that spurred a national movement of young people to get engaged in the public discourse around gun control—and he is well known for opposing gun control.
Harvard undertook a formal review of Kashuv’s admission. On Monday morning, Kashuv tweeted out a letter from Harvard stating that his admission had been formally rescinded.
1/ THREAD: Harvard rescinded my acceptance.
Three months after being admitted to Harvard Class of 2023, 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
His thread on Twitter, which included a blow-by-blow account of his efforts to address the problem and restore his admission, went viral. By Monday afternoon, his name was trending on Twitter, and the conservative media was running with allegations of liberal bias in academia.
The issue has quickly become a politically polarizing one, as it may be assumed.
Conservatives are largely seeing Kashuv’s actions through a sympathetic light. It was a personal failing on behalf of a younger teen, one who hadn’t yet gone through the tragedy of the Parkland shooting, which he asserts shaped and changed him. For those holding this view, the real threat isn’t the racist comments—which can be overcome—but the impulse to punish people for them. If you penalize people for every past politically incorrect comment, the logic goes, then people will have no room to grow.
Liberals, on the other hand, see racism as a structural problem that is reflected both in social institutions and deeply ingrained. These biases are firm and can lead even people who believe in ideals of equal treatment to act or speak in prejudiced ways. Addressing the consequences of racism requires work, effort and vigilance.
Through this lens, Kashuv looks less like a kid who made youthful mistakes and more like a young man who’s trying to escape responsibility for his actions, and his attempt to minimize his comment by saying they were designed for shock value is part of the problem. “Ironic” racism is still real racism; the fact that the comments are roughly two years old isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Whatever your opinions may be about this, Harvard’s admissions policy didn’t target Kashuv specifically. The university’s actions are consistent with its past decisions to enforce a blanket rule about offensive social media use by prospective students. In 2017, Harvard rescinded 10 other students’ admissions, after it found they were participating in a Facebook group that involved swapping racist and anti-Semitic memes.
However, these other 10 students didn’t become martyrs for the cause like Kyle Kashuv. Their names didn’t trend on twitter or get defended in major conservative publications.
What makes the Kashuv case so volatile is the confluence of these factors: not just that he said some racist things in the past, but also that he’s a visible conservative with a national platform who’s answering for his actions to a university.
When all is said and done, it’s likely that Kashuv will end up attending a different elite university. But his case bears considering, for the cultural elements and political issues it touches upon.
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