Gone are the days where students had to wait until freshman orientation to connect with one another. Now students have connected online before they ever arrive on campus.
The latest of these online forums are Facebook meme groups and nearly every major college in America has one.
Students use the groups to bond, chat, and connect through a shared sense of humor showcased through a series of student-created memes specific to each college.
As the groups have grown, they’ve become about more than just connection. They’ve also begun to play a role in the admission process, Mic reported recently.
“For many prospective freshmen, they can visit the college with their parents or whatever, but the meme group is their first taste of college life,” one unnamed meme group founder told Mic.
“I didn’t know that much about a lot of schools before the meme groups, so I think it helps you learn what life is like,” Ephraim Sutherland, a 19-year-old freshman at Yale and the co-founder of Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens, told Mic. “Like, a lot has happened at Berkeley this year, and I’ve watched it all unfold on the meme page before it’s even reported in news outlets… It’s how you keep up with stuff.”
University of Southern California is one school with a particularly thriving meme group. Timothy Brunold, a NACAC member and USC’s dean of admission, said he didn’t know if meme groups were starting to play a big role in enrollment decisions, but he wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
“Given that most students gather college information online, any/all content certainly has the potential to impact someone’s decision,” Brunold said. “Memes, even the particularly snarky or satirical ones, might offer particular insights into a campus’ culture or issues.”
But these meme groups can also have a downside for potential students.
At least 10 members of Harvard’s incoming Class of 2021 had their admission offers rescinded due to sexually explicit and racist memes they posted in a private Facebook group chat, the Harvard Crimson reported.
The Crimson obtained screenshots of the memes posted in “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” chat and reported that the “students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children…Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups.”
Like many institutions, Harvard reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission if an admitted student engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, maturity, or moral character. This standard is outlined to all prospective students.
USC has a similar policy, Brunold said.
“At USC, it is not our practice to search or monitor the online activity of applicants. However, if something troubling is brought to our attention, we reserve the right to look into it and, depending on what we find, we might deny an applicant or rescind an offer of admission,” he said. “We have never rescinded an admission offer due to a meme post, but we have occasionally rescinded due to other online activity.”
Content shared in meme groups should be treated like any other online activity, particularly as it relates to the admission process, Brunold said.
“Online expression is really just a matter of common sense: One should never assume that pictures, posts, comments, etc. are anonymous, private, or will just “go away;” and (especially for prospective students or job applicants) don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want an admission committee or prospective employer to see,” he said. “I believe that all people have a right to express themselves, but that right comes with responsibilities and an implicit willingness to accept the potential consequences that might result.”
Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.