Written by Patricia Mazzei
Of the many student activists who emerged from the tragic shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Kyle Kashuv stood out as a conservative defender of the Second Amendment, surrounded by classmates who were mobilizing for sweeping new controls on guns.
He used that distinction to get meetings with the likes of President Donald Trump and successfully push for what he believed would be more effective federal legislation to improve school security and help detect potential threats of violence at schools, as he proudly related in his admission essay to Harvard College.
In the essay, he described hiding in a classroom closet during the February 2018 rampage in which 17 people were killed. He said he learned about the deaths of his classmates one by one and chose to devote himself to activism afterward.
“While I support a conservative viewpoint on the Second Amendment, I know that finding common ground is the path to protecting our students,” he wrote. “I still believe that from the pits of despair, goodness can and will prevail.”
Harvard accepted him into its freshman class — briefly.
On Monday, Kashuv revealed on Twitter that the university this month rescinded its admission offer over a trail of derogatory and racist screeds that it turns out Kashuv, 18, wrote as a 16-year-old student, months before the shooting that would turn his high school into one of the most famous in the country.
Kashuv, who had apologized for the comments when they became public in May, did so again Monday as he announced Harvard’s decision on Twitter. It followed, he said, a campaign against him organized by political opponents and former classmates who long ago stopped being his friends.
“Hopefully people have the goodness in their hearts to forgive me,” Kashuv said in a telephone interview. “I really hope that. What I said two years ago isn’t indicative of who I am.”
Some conservatives decried Harvard’s decision as unfair, once again thrusting the fraught issue of college admissions into the public eye. And the rescinded offer raised a question uniquely relevant to the digital age: To what degree should the pronouncements of young people who routinely document their thoughts online — in this case, in a private study document shared with a few classmates — follow them into adulthood?
A Harvard spokesman declined to comment, citing college policy on discussing an individual applicant’s admission status. In 2017, the college rescinded admission offers for at least 10 applicants who had shared sexually explicit and other offensive memes and messages in a private Facebook group.
Harvard informs students upon their admission that the college reserves the right to withdraw its offer for several reasons, including if an admitted student “engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character.”
William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, cited “maturity and moral character” in informing Kashuv of the rescinded admission offer.
Two other prominent Parkland student activists, Jaclyn Corin and David Hogg, both of them vocal proponents of tighter gun restrictions, are headed to Harvard this fall. Hogg, who is completing a gap year, garnered attention when he announced his acceptance last year after being rejected from other schools, including from California State University at Long Beach. On Monday, Kashuv’s defenders noted that Hogg had a 4.2 GPA and scored 1270 on the SAT test, while Kashuv said in the interview that he had a 5.4 GPA and a 1550 SAT score.
Unlike some of his classmates who became national figures after starting a youth movement against gun violence, Kashuv garnered widespread attention as a young voice in favor of gun rights. In Washington, he lobbied in support of the STOP School Violence Act and a law stepping up requirements for reporting on criminal background checks on gun buyers; both passed in 2018.
He served as the high school outreach director for Turning Point USA, a conservative group with ties to the Trump family. Kashuv has since stepped down from that position, though he said Monday his departure was unrelated to the comments that got him into trouble with Harvard.
A video showing screenshots of what he wrote, including repeated racial slurs, was posted online in May by a former schoolmate. The screenshots show that Kashuv and other students used a Google Doc study guide as a chat, with several of them editing the document simultaneously and commenting on each other’s remarks. In laying out the story Monday morning to his 304,000 Twitter followers, Kashuv said the “egregious and callous” comments were made “in an attempt to be as extreme and shocking as possible,” not because of any personal beliefs.
One screenshot shows Kashuv using a racial slur for African-Americans more than a dozen times.
“like im really good at typing” the slur, he wrote. “ok like practice uhhhhhh makes perfect son??!!”
In a different screenshot of a text message, Kashuv also used the slur to refer to black student athletes.
Ariana Ali, the former schoolmate who posted video of the messages on Twitter, declined to elaborate Monday beyond praising Harvard’s rescinding of Kashuv’s admission offer.
“He’s being held accountable, & I think the consequences were necessary,” she said in a direct message on Twitter.
Conservative Stoneman Douglas students like Kashuv have said they felt marginalized by their peers and the news media after the shooting, which inspired young people across the country to try to register voters and get gun laws changed. Already, some political commentators on the right see Harvard’s decision to rescind his admission as motivated by complaints from Parkland graduates who oppose Kashuv’s politics.
Kashuv’s approach in the aftermath of the shooting exacerbated tensions with some of the other survivors at the school. In 2018, he posted video of himself shooting at a gun range, angering some classmates still shaken by the sound of gunfire. Schools officials questioned him about the incident, prompting Kashuv to go on Fox News and denounce the questioning as an attempt at intimidation.
Patrick Petty, 18, a friend and former Stoneman Douglas classmate of Kashuv’s, who shares his conservative views on gun control, said he never heard Kashuv use racist language or make offensive comments like the ones revealed in Ali’s video. He acknowledged friction in school among some students over their differing views of gun control, though he said some classmates quietly shared conservative opinions like theirs.
“If somebody really had an issue at the time, they would have taken it to a teacher or administrator,” said Petty, whose younger sister, Alaina, was killed in the shooting. “The fact that they didn’t just proves that it’s a political hit against Kyle because of his views.”