Recently, several universities made headlines in the US because they revoked the enrollment of new students due to racist social media posts. This left many students wondering how their posts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter can affect their chances of entering college in the country. In this text, we will help you to understand how social networks can impact your application and whether they can even lead institutions to revoke admission.
Can universities revoke admission because of social media posts?
Since the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May this year, colleges and universities in the United States have taken action against racist language and behavior practiced by students in social media posts.
Institutions that revoked the admission of students
In some cases, several of which are cited in this New York Times article, universities have chosen to terminate admission offers based on the content of admitted students’ social media posts.
Here is an example: a football recruit from the University of Richmond will no longer attend university due to the use of a racial slur in a Snapchat video, shared on a friend’s account in late June 2020. The recording circulated on Twitter , which generated an online petition, with more than 400 signatures, demanding the termination of the student’s admission offer. Soon after, the institution issued a statement stating that the video “did not reflect the university’s values or its commitment to a prosperous and inclusive community”.
Several other cases of revoked admissions have also been documented at private universities. However, while most terminations during the summer of this year cited recent social media content as the reason for these decisions, posts from several years ago have also resulted in revocations.
Recently, a speaker in the 2020 class lost his seat at the University of Florida after racist language Twitter posts were discovered by other netizens. The posts from more than a year ago contained racial slurs at two black colleagues. Although the publication has been going on for some time, the University of Florida still decided to act and revoke the student’s admission.
But not all universities are acting
Not all institutions decided to act based on the content posted on the new students’ social networks. Other universities maintained their admission decisions, despite the awareness that students shared racist content on the internet. An example is Louisiana State University. The institution was confronted with recent videos of students using racist language but argued that students had a constitutional right to freedom of expression and decided not to revoke admission. However, these same students ended up choosing to give up their places on their own.
Having admission revoked is not a new thing, but neither is it common, even in 2020. In an article from Inside Higher Ed, it is shown that admissions terminated due to hate speech are rare, but not new, and are more likely occur in private institutions than in public ones.
Why are universities taking these actions?
To understand an institution’s motivation to take a particular action in response to racist behavior among its newly admitted students, let’s take a look at the reasons why different universities are on opposite sides of this issue.
Reasons why schools decided to revoke student admission
There are two main lines of reasoning that universities have disclosed to justify their actions. Universities that terminated the admission of new students explained their decisions as follows:
Racism does not align with the university’s admission standards and mission, so we can and will terminate admission offers to any student who exhibits racist behavior.
Institutions that have chosen to terminate admission offers based on racist postings generally point to their admission standards as a line of defense for these decisions. Colleges and universities clearly describe the qualities and characteristics they look for in candidates on their websites and during the selection process .
Thus, students who are admitted to these schools receive offers based on the institution’s understanding that, based on all available information, that student meets the required standards of conduct and character. Therefore, when an admitted student shows that his character does not align with the university’s admission standards, it stands to reason that he may no longer be admitted.
But that argument was contested on the basis of legality. Organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have said that the First Amendment – which public universities are legally required to comply with – protects the rights of university students, even when those students say racist and offensive things. From now on, it is possible for FIRE to sue universities that revoke admissions, based on this precedent.
Although private universities are not necessarily subject to the same laws and regulations, they can also have problems if their decisions are made arbitrarily. For example, if the institution has not posted any information about student behavior patterns or hate speech policies, students can potentially challenge a university’s decision to revoke admission.
Reasons why schools decided NOT to revoke student admission
Universities that spoke out against racist content on students’ social networks, but did not take action, justified their position as follows:
Universities are legally obliged to respect the principles of freedom of expression described in the First Amendment, therefore, despite the offensive nature of these racist posts, we will not terminate the admission offers of students who produced this content.
These institutions cite students’ right to freedom of expression as the determining factor in their decisions to maintain admission offers, declaring that they are legally required to uphold the principles that are embodied in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The First Amendment prevents the US government from limiting people’s freedom of expression, although organizations, companies and private entities do not follow the same pattern. That is why, in the past, private universities were more likely to revoke student admissions than public universities.
This stance also received much criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal team lawyer, Emerson Sykes, sees the “defending the First Amendment” response as a way to evade responsibility for responding to racist incidents.
When cases of racism and other forms of hate speech affect the campus community, says Sykes, an institution’s first response should not be to point to the First Amendment and then leave. Instead, he argues that schools should start by “thinking about ways in which the community can heal” and then address their legal obligations.
Another counter-argument is that universities have an obligation to provide a safe learning environment for all students. Since racism, LGBT phobia and other types of hate speech can make students in the affected groups feel insecure, the institution has an obligation to act.
What can these actions mean to you?
Okay, now that you know more about the situation… what can that mean for you?
First, these decisions show us that students can, and sometimes will, be held responsible for the things they say online. Social networks are a public forum and, although you can have freedom of expression, that does not mean freedom from consequences! If the things you post to your social accounts violate the university’s code of conduct, it may decide to hold you responsible.
But what if you leave your profile private? Shouldn’t that provide some protection?
Unfortunately, private accounts on social networks are not completely isolated. Even if you have an account accessible to only a few of your friends, it is enough for a screenshot to go viral for you to end up in trouble with your future university.
Also remember that, in the examples listed above, the student whose admission was revoked was filmed by others who posted the content on their accounts. So while you may be managing your personal account well, this is no guarantee that others are being as cautious as you are.
In the end, the most important thing is not to reproduce hate speech under any circumstances, and not only for fear of suffering reprisals, but mainly because it is wrong (just like that!). And always remember: hate speech is not and will never be free speech!
Do exchange students have to follow the same standards?
In general, any content that may be viewed as derogatory towards people of a specific race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion will be prohibited by U.S. universities. This is the result of a centuries-old battle for equality, and the struggle continues in 2020 with social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
The good news is that, at the moment, there is no record of any international student from the 2020-2021 period with revoked admission due to content posted on social networks.
But keep in mind that universities keep all their students with the same standards of conduct. So, even if you are not from the United States , you will have to be aware of the political history and standards adopted there to ensure that you will be out of trouble. The best thing you can do is to read your university’s Code of Conduct which is almost always available online. This document will clearly outline which behaviors are considered acceptable by the institution.