CC’s Meme Lord: The rising popularity and risks of college meme pages

By Miriam Brown

Edgar Santos ’20 can find the humor in almost anything: the Block Plan, college move-in, student loans, sleep deprivation, the weather. You name it, and he can probably meme it.

In 2017, Santos and six of his friends created “Colorado College memes for Innovative Teens,” a Facebook group for CC students to poke fun at college life with popular online templates. Now, the group has almost 900 members and hundreds of posts.

College meme groups are nothing new. Most people credit University of California at Berkeley for being the first to do it in 2016. Their group has become so popular that it has almost 200,000 members — about 160,000 more members than actual students at the college — and has inspired a slew of copycats at other universities. Harvard University has their “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens”; Yale University has their “Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens”; Princeton University has their “Princeton Memes for Preppy AF Teens.”

“When you find that new, fun meme template that’s being passed around the Internet, you have to jump on the bandwagon, and it’s fun,” Santos said. “But for college campuses, you get more unique experiences that can be expressed in memes … it makes for a college inside joke, in a way.”

For Santos, CC students have so many inside jokes already that the memes come easily. Take a student’s attempt to explain the Block Plan to friends and family, for example. In only 5–10 minutes, he can find the most fitting template, make a meme with it, and share it online. He posts so much that current and prospective students often recognize him as “the meme guy.”

Though Santos said he’s embraced the nickname, he thinks about its implications often. People are paying attention. What does he want them to see?

“So many different images can depict things we want to show,” said Santos. “Memes have a very long history of being entwined with white supremacy, racist ideologies, and stuff … so you have to be very careful.”

The most famous example is the meme “Pepe the Frog,” a seemingly harmless image of a frog that originally appeared in an online comic in 2005. However, as it grew in popularity as a meme, a subset of Pepe memes began to be used for racist and anti-Semitic messages. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League added it to their database of hate symbols, and the original creator Matt Furie launched the #SavePepe campaign to try to “take back” the image.

Santos makes it clear this sort of behavior isn’t welcome in the CC group. He watches everything posted to make sure it maintains the safety of the space, and he tries to avoid dark humor that could offend people. The space is also limited to members of the CC community, with Santos and the other administrators approving all requests to join the group individually.

“That’s always on my mind,” he said. “We want it to be safe here.”

Safety is one of Santos’ main goals for the group — safety from hate, safety to laugh, and safety to create a community of shared experiences.

“It can be a crappy meme, but it can make someone’s day,” Santos said. 

Miriam Brown

Miriam Brown

Miriam is a junior from Memphis, TN. She is pursuing a major in sociology and minor in journalism. She works as an editor-in-chief for The Catalyst and a writing intern for the Colorado College Office of Communications.

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