Dark humour has always kind of been lurking in the corner, shyly and insidiously and most often, anonymously. However, more recently, it’s alarming popularity appears to have allowed it a more public platform, wherein people almost take pride in their ability to see humour in the most morbid of things. This twisted sense of fun has spread so far and wide, it spared not even the youth who were potential students of one of the most prestigious institutions: Harvard University.
“Potential” students, you ask? Well, yes, for they never really got to actually attend the university. Here’s why:
An unofficial Facebook group for the future incoming students of Harvard witnessed a grotesque exchange of racially offensive memes. These included Holocaust jokes, and calling the suicide of a Mexican “pinãta time! “ (Let’s keep the rest of them ambiguous for the sake of this article.)
Certainly, there lies no doubt regarding the obscene nature of these “jokes”. While stemming from the need to prove that getting into Harvard does not equate to lack of fun, it ended up being anything but. A lot of debate revolves around whether or not Harvard should have done what it did next: withdrawing the admission offers of about ten students involved in this exchange.
First things first, Harvard does maintain the right to withdraw these offers if it observes something questionable about the student’s moral character. Keeping in mind that these jokes were disturbing and quite evidently meant to offend, one could certainly support this action, no matter how severe. No institution with even the vaguest sense of self-respect would tolerate such behavior, especially if an association with the behavior is likely to cause a massive plunge in its popularity and positive views.
But here’s the catch: the group was, at the end of the day, unofficial. Therefore, anything shared on the group should have ideally stayed within the group, free from the scrutiny of the Harvard administration. Moreover, where does one draw the line? Is a group chat on Facebook much different from a group chat in person, other than the fact that the former is more likely to stay recorded? Is it really closely related to Harvard when the students have not even attended it yet? The boundaries are blurry but the verdict, quite clear.
Some argue, quite rightfully (in my opinion), that sending these kinds of memes is the same as verbally making offensive comments under the guise of a joke. Why is the former forgiven and the latter frowned upon? The content remains consistent, the same sentiments are attacked. It is simply the form of presentation that changes from speech to text and pictures. Finding humor in either increases the risk of normalizing such behavior, which ultimately threatens to render actual issues faced by these races as trivial and okay to make fun of.
And yet, (sigh) we have a whole bunch of free speech advocates who are against this ridiculous attempt at silencing the students in their own private conversation. While I personally believe that the level of comfort of others present on the group should have been given more consideration, I also see how many people holding the same distorted set of values can get away with it by having the same conversation in person rather than online. Why is judgment only to be passed on to the latter, and how is it okay to neglect the former simply because it tends to go unnoticed and unrecorded?
All I can conclude thus far is that this situation is a huge mess, and while the racist students got what they deserve, the justification for the level of intervention practised by Harvard is not entirely convincing to me. I suppose I’ll just have to come to terms with being in the dark on the matter.
Author: Manasi Pant