Photo Courtesy of Jezebel

Two MIT students’ good intentioned joke received backlash this week, forcing the duo to shut down the website and issue a public apology.

Jin Pan launched the site “HoboJacket” with his friend Cathie Yun, allowing users to donate their rival college’s jackets and shirts to the homeless.

The project spawned from jokes Pan used to make with his friends, claiming that if he ever came into money, he would donate tons of Caltech gear to the unfortunate, “because it’ll show the true value of a Caltech degree.” His sarcasm turned serious, however, when he was looking for a way to procrastinate on homework and decided to code the website.

In a prior interview with BostInno, Pan called HoboJacket a social experiment, claiming he wanted “to see if it’s possible to leverage even one percent of the intensity surrounding college rivalries to create something more meaningful than four touchdowns.” Latching on to the competitive edge coupled with heated rivalries, HoboJacket gamified charity by showing off a leaderboard so students can see where clothing was being donated.

Yet, as word spread, the media started responding. Jezebel posted a story calling Pan and Yun “jackass MIT students,” writing the site was:

…just contributing to the overall level of sniggering disgust that permeates how many college educated folks think about the homeless, and that’s not funny — it’s repugnant.

In response, Pan has shut down the HoboJacket site and posted an apology in its place. He writes:

I thought I had a clever idea for leveraging existing college rivalries to raise money to provide warm clothing for the homeless. But I did not actually understand that my gimmick was dependent on objectifying the homeless.

The site’s so-called edgy manner was designed to spread quickly, but I realize now that it also allowed my insensitivity to go viral.

I wish I could rewind time to Sunday and reverse the decision to take the site live. But time is irreversible and I’ve learned a hard lesson. I’m sorry that I offended so many, and I’m disappointed in my own lack of judgment.

I’ve matured a lot over the last 3 days in listening to the flood of more mature voices out there.

I especially apologize for using those who can’t as easily speak up for themselves.


What was your take on the Hobojacket project? Good intentioned or offensive?