News that members of Harvard University’s Class of 2021 had exchanged racially offensive messages and memes in a private Facebook group chat ricocheted around the Internet on Monday, after the Harvard Crimson reported the school rescinded 10 prospective students’ admissions offers because of their involvement in the members-only room.
Among the most incendiary memes in the chat was an image of a Jewish man with an accompanying reference to “gas chambers” (the image was also posted in 2016 to the subreddit r/ImGoingtoHellForThis, where one of the rules is “Downvote any whiteknighting, moralfaggotry and general agenda pushing you see.”).
The memes were circulated in late December in private Facebook group chats titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” and “General Fuckups,” two incoming Harvard freshmen told The Crimson. University administrators reportedly revoked acceptance letters to 10 participants in the group chats in mid-April.
The private group chats were created by members of the official Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group.
One incoming freshman and member of the group, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that “everyone started leaving the regular, clean meme group chat” after hearing some incoming students might have their admissions offers rescinded.
Jessica Zhang, another member of Harvard’s Class of 2021, was among those who left the group after seeing the offensive posts.
In an email to The Crimson, Zhang described the messages in the original group as “lighthearted.” Then several students formed a separate meme group, which Zhang reportedly joined but didn’t contribute to.
Speaking to The Tab, which bills itself as a “university news network run by students,” Zhang said of the posts: “Some people replied with ‘lol,’ a fire emoji or ‘omg’ and found them either funny or shocking... more and more people began leaving the chat when they saw those memes.”
The “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” group is one of dozens of similar campus Facebook groups, including the mostly innocuous “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens,” which has more than 30,000 members; MIT Memes for Intellectual Beings and Spicy Memelords; Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens; Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens; Dartmouth Memes for Cold AF Teens; Yale Buckley Memes for Alt-Right Teens, and Yale POC Memes for micro-aggressed and gas-lit teens.
Many of these offensive-sounding groups appear to be parodies, though one group’s administrator admitted it can be difficult to determine when a meme crosses the line. Will Ye, founder of Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens, told Mic that the “judgment of how offensive a meme is and the removal of said memes is a common example of the dilemma in meme ethics.”
Last year, Harvard administrators condemned a similar incident involving racist and sexist jokes made by admitted Class of 2020 students on an unofficial class GroupMe chat.
“Harvard College and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid were troubled and disappointed to see a conversation that included graphics with offensive themes,” administrators wrote in a statement responding to the chats, which was posted to the Class of 2020’s Facebook page.
Harvard did not respond to a Daily Beast inquiry asking why the students who participated in the offensive GroupMe chat retained their admission to the university while this year’s offending students were sanctioned.
“We do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Daily Beast.
However, Harvard’s official admissions policy cites “behavior that brings into question [a prospective student’s] honesty, maturity, or moral character” among its conditions for rescinding admissions offers.