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Grant Merits a Chance


By W. STEPHEN Venable

Harvard's recent decision to rescind the admission of Gina Grant represents a tragic event not only for Grant, but also for Harvard and for the concept of a juvenile justice as an opportunity for a second chance. Grant, who rebuilt her life after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter of her mother at age 14, is a model case of how child offenders can become productive citizens if given a chance to start anew.

Contrary to Harvard's claims, the Gina Grant case is not an issue of an applicant falsifying her record. Grant could not have disclosed her absence from school or her six month incarceration without violating the confidentiality of her sealed court case. Even the judge who sentenced Grant says she was not required to disclose this information to Harvard.

Harvard has seized on Grant's alleged misrepresentation, however, as a weak cover for its decision to rescind her admission. In doing so, it has avoided the most significant issue--should someone who commits a crime, however grave, as a 14-year-old child, be allowed to rebuild her life and succeed in a new environment?

If our juvenile justice system, appropriately called a correctional system, is going to be anything more than a junior prison which converts child offenders into hardened criminals, the answer must be yes. After repaying their debt to society and atoning for their crimes, juvenile offenders must receive at least the opportunity to start afresh.

In Grant's case this is especially true. Grant has repaid her debt to society. She served six months in a juvenile corrections facility and tried to move on with her life by moving here from South Carolina. Grant was a straight-A student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. She was a member of the Academic Decathlon team and the honors society, and co-captain of the tennis team--in short, a superior candidate for early admission to Harvard.

Never in the four years since her release has Grant broken a law or shown any sign of being a danger to society. Based on Crimson interviews and postings on the internet, the majority of Harvard students support her admission and would feel comfortable with her enrollment.

But even if students did feel uncomfortable about Grant's admission, that is no reason to deny her admission. Such logic might also deny the admission of homosexuals or other disfavored groups.

Though the details of her dysfunctional family are uncertain, Grant's mother was severely emotionally abusive, if not physically abusive. Her mother's blood alcohol level was 0.3%, slightly below lethal levels, at the time of her death.

But regardless whether Grant's crime was justified or committed in self-defense, as some evidence indicates, it occurred five years ago. She was a 14-year-old child, not a hardened and hopeless criminal. And she served the punishment for her crime.

Harvard should not have prolonged Grant's punishment by revoking her admission. In doing so, Harvard sent a dangerous message that child offenders can never be truly forgiven for their crimes, and it lost the opportunity to admit a student who likely would have excelled here.

Grant thought she had put her past behind her five years ago, when she left South Carolina. Harvard should allow her to do so again by admitting her to the Class of '99.

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