Memes on College Campuses

By Brian Yeo

The biggest and most active Yale-specific Facebook group/page isn’t “Lost and Found”, where Yalies can post items they either can’t find or objects that they found and want to return to their rightful owners. Nor is it “Free & For Sale,” a virtual marketplace where Yale students can buy and sell various things. It’s not any of the “Class of 20__” groups or any residential college group.


In fact, the largest active group of Yale users isn’t even one in the overarching Yale Community group, which only Yale students, faculty, and alumni can join. No, the group in question is one that Yale students unofficially created themselves: “Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens.” Though not necessarily exclusive to Yale students—anyone can join with approval from the admins—the group is curated by Yalies and its memes (the group’s core content) are Yale-centered. With 25,393 members, it is nearly five times the size of the current Yale undergraduate population and nearly surpasses the total member size of the aforementioned Yale Community group, which has 25,779 members.


And Yale’s meme page isn’t the largest college meme page out there. “columbia buy sell memes” boasts over 40,000 members. “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Teens” has over 46,000 members. “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens” sits with over 51,000. And at the top of them all is “UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens” which stands with an astounding 147,000 members.


The popularity of online memes isn’t confined to college groups; Twitter, Reddit, and 4Chan all serve as breeding ground for popular memes. Memes vary in nature and it’s hard to really come up with a specific definition that can describe exactly what memes are to those who don’t know what I’m talking about. I guess the easiest way to categorize a meme is that it’s any phrase, picture, established media format, etc. that germinates throughout online communities with a funny element. Memes are often re-posted, mimicked, or adapted for comedic effect.  The best way to understand memes is to see examples, which you can find on the website, Know Your Meme.


Using the internet and social media, it can be easy to sometimes feel out of the loop when you encounter a meme you’re not used to. In my head, many memes are like inside jokes; when you know a meme and see it used online, you laugh and feel good that you’re familiar with the meme in front of you. When you don’t know a meme and don’t get it, you feel like you’re a little left out. This experience doesn’t encompass all memes, however. Quite a few memes, including a large portion of the memes in these Facebook college groups, don’t require you to be knowledgeable of established memes to laugh along with them—though there are those that do, of course. Rather, these college group memes rely on a commonality of experience, shared by the students of the university and, on a grander scale, college students in general.


Scrolling through the Yale meme page, it becomes somewhat easy to see several types of memes and meme subject matter that continually appear and get the most likes. Though a majority of the memes deal with current hot topics on the campus—i.e. the popularity of Psych and the Good Life, Yale’s largest class ever, or the performer selection for our annual Spring Fling concert—others aren’t necessarily Yale exclusive.


Just like the meme pages of other schools, outside of the school-specific content (and even within), most of what students post deal with issues relevant to all college students. These include shared difficulties, like facing problems with studying or fighting off laziness. Others are self-deprecating or jokingly raise the topic of a declining mental health. As can be seen from the group titles of all these university meme pages, posters also like to satirically, and sometimes seriously, poke fun at the student population of their respective colleges. The “Special Snowflake Teens” portion of the Yale meme page title refers to the snide moniker placed upon Yale students when they raised certain social issues on campus a couple years ago, while simultaneously satirizing the tendency of right-wing pundits to call individuals on the left “snowflakes.”


So, what contributes to the massive popularity of college meme pages and what dictates what type of content receives position attention? Before you tell me that it’s not that deep or that it’s common sense, this piece is geared more towards high school students and non-college students who aren’t particularly aware of the existence of meme pages and might wonder as to why this phenomenon exists. Perhaps the most simple explanation is that people want to laugh and these pages provide a constant source of new, funny material.


Looking more in-depth, however, these groups also allow students to tackle serious topics of conversation and relevant subjects in a more light-hearted, digestible manner. It’s easier and more fun to satirically criticize the prevalence of yellow fever on Yale’s campus or class dynamics among the student population through memes than through a Yale Daily News op-ed. Of course, not all subjects brought up on these pages are serious; some recent memes talk about the different types of students that study at various libraries on campus or about how certain residential colleges are worse than others. In my opinion, looking at a college’s meme page is not necessarily a bad way to get a glimpse into the campus climate and things that affect the lives of students at the school.


It’s important to note that not all members on these meme pages actually go to the respective schools. In fact, it might be fair to say a majority of the members in UC Berkeley’s meme group don’t or haven’t gone to Berkeley. Obviously, these members might not relate with the Berkeley-specific memes, and this goes for other school meme pages as well. Explaining why such a significant number of outside students frequent other schools’ meme groups touches upon the universal experience shared by all college students.


Nearly every college student can relate to the stress of midterms and the struggle of pulling all-nighters. Student loan debt, overflowing class sizes, bland dining hall food—these exist at all colleges. A good portion have experienced periods of bad mental health brought about by academic and social influences. The popularity of these meme pages among students of different universities is a recognition of the fact that students everywhere are dealing with the same struggles and going through the same experiences. It’s a comforting reminder that you aren’t alone with your problems, and it’s good to laugh at things and problems that you and many others have gone through.


My last observation, and one that you might have taken note of, is that the most popular and active college meme pages tend to exist at schools known to be academic standouts. Harvard, UC Berkeley, and the rest of the colleges whose meme pages I mentioned above are schools that are very selective and have strong reputations. It’s a bit interesting that these schools are the ones who dominate the college meme culture when they, especially the Ivy League schools, tend to be smaller than other very large state schools—UC Berkeley and UCLA are exceptions in that they are extremely large schools.


It’s not like memes and meme culture is restricted to these top college campuses; the overwhelming majority of popular memes come from and exist in general online forums and social media platforms. There are a myriad of possible explanations for why these exclusive, high-achieving schools are responsible for creating the most popular meme pages, but that may be a topic for another piece.


To close up, college meme pages and groups don’t seem to be slowing down with membership in these groups still growing strong. To high school students, these groups and pages don’t seem to be going anywhere and might have larger presences when you enter college. To parents and other people who aren’t in college, maybe taking a look at some of these pages will allow you to get a candid glimpse into the lives and minds of current-day university students. Maybe you’ll be able to understand us better, or maybe you’ll just realize we’re all a little bit crazy.

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