Should Teenagers Be Forgiven for Racist Remarks?

A kid’s admission to Harvard rescinded for private comments made two years earlier when he was 16, comments for which he apologized after he was publicly outed by his peers.

If those facts are true, this is very sad. Kids make mistakes even egregious ones. Forgiveness is important.

I’m starting to think he’s better off. I’m curious what he said though.

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@John_Dalton @swamidass

The Admissions process is a very fuzzy “alchemical” thing.

Maybe there were other flags raised in his application that had to be set aside because they were speculative…

… but then the quote put some flesh on the bones of what some committee members weren’t happy about.

Over-reacting to this is committing the same sin as your thinking Harvard over-reacted. There’s really no way of knowing…

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Some folk are going to see that “apology” as a “not-pology”. And I’m guessing that may have been the reaction at Harvard.

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Looked like a genuine apology to me. And if it weren’t genuine, presumably there would be evidence that he still held the views deemed objectionable, from later statements and activities of his. The very enemies who published the news of the first offense would no doubt gleefully supply evidence of newer offenses, if they had any. But there appears to be no such evidence.

If he has stopped talking and acting in the way he did before, and says he was wrong to act in that way, it seems vindictive to hold his past against him. I suspect that Harvard just doesn’t want any association with anyone who even in the past uttered politically incorrect views. I suspect it’s a “public image” thing.

Further, if Harvard has the right to decline admittance to someone who utters offensive views prior to entering Harvard, presumably it has the right to kick out someone who utters offensive views while at Harvard. So if the kid isn’t sincere, and repeats the offense after starting at Harvard, he could be kicked out then. Harvard could make a public statement of righteous indignation at that time. But in the meantime, why not give the kid a second chance?

Fortunately, none of us here ever said anything at sixteen that we would regret now, or even at eighteen. We may therefore cast the first stone (only that appears to have been done already by the perfect ones at Harvard).


I wouldn’t be surprised, since it wasn’t actually an apology. It’s all about him, not about anyone he may have affected, and shows no awareness or even consideration of the impact his remarks might have had on others.

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According to the reports I read, nobody but equally immature friends contributing to a private document would ever have been impacted at all, if journalists hadn’t published them in order to gain public attention.

If words constitute hate speech because they cause offence, isn’t it the person from whom you hear them who is to blame? When I was much younger than him, I soon learned that going up to my teacher and saying, “Please Miss, Jimmy said a rude word” would get me into trouble, not him. And quite right too, because even if Jimmy did say it, I was the malicious one.

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‘Not going to Harvard as an undergrad’… Sounds like he’s actually lucky about that.

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AFAICT they were published on twitter by non-journalists, probably via one of those immature friends. Another example of how stuff you write on some-one else’s computer is not a private document

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PZ Myers reports on this story here: You aren’t owed admission to Harvard, Kyle

My own opinion on the question posed in the title of this OP (should teenagers be forgiven for racist remarks?) is that it depends.

How long ago did the teenager make those remarks? Two years is not a long time at all. What do we know about the context in which they were said? Does he still hold that opinion and how do we know? Is he just saying he’s changed but is lying, or did he really change? Has he merely grown older and stopped saying racist stuff because of adulthood (aka his frontal lobes are now big enough to suppress his instinctive behavior) but still hold racist opinions he just doesn’t let people know of?

Chances are if you were a racist two years ago, then you probably still is. How frequently do racists stop being racists? It happens but I don’t think all that often. And it probably takes quite a period of personal reflection to reverse on something like that. I’d need to see some really good evidence that he has changed. Not just some lame apology he felt compelled to provide now that his metaphorical arse was on the line.

I suppose the fact that he’s only found it appropriate to distance himself from his earlier utterings when his future at Harvad was on the table is indicative of how sincerely he believes he was wrong.

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Kids also lack the same control and inhibitions which develop later in adulthood. There are very real reasons to treat kids differently than we do adults. It is worth mentioning that our justice system treats children differently than it does adults for these very same reasons. Kids have their whole future laid out in front of them, and it shouldn’t be thrown away because they lacked the skills to make better decisions earlier in life.


That is not accurate. He distanced himself before this.

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Seems to me we aren’t privy to all the information Harvard has so it’s really not right to second guess their decision, and it is solely their decision to make. This also doesn’t “ruin the kid’s life” as some hyperbole has it. Lots of people have been turned down by their first choice college and gone on to other schools and successful careers.


But is he still a child? A quick check found that there are two US states which would classify Kyle Kashuv as an adult for legal purposes.

He was 16, in 11th grade, when he wrote those remarks. An age at which many US students take SATs. An age at which they are building their GPA scores.

Why should Harvard not take note of some of his ‘achievements’ that year, but include others?

I would say that he is still a kid. For reference:

Cognitive and decision making skills don’t develop at the same rates. Kids can be smart, but may lack wisdom.

I think this guy makes a good case. As @gbrooks9 noted it’s not possible to know all Harvard knows, either.