From pictures of abandoned AU shuttles in the middle of the forest, to screengrabs of Scrooge McDuck with the caption, “Kogod student in their natural habitat,” AU students have found a creative way to laugh at various aspects of campus culture: memes.
Since its creation on April 8, American University’s meme group, whose name was recently changed from “AU Memes for Wonky Teens” to “Camp Wonkachusetts,” has grown to more than 3,000 members. The group is made up of current undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and even students from other local universities.
The group’s creators and administrators, rising juniors Erin Taylor and Aleisha Bynum, were inspired to create the group after discovering the meme pages of other local universities.
The idea came to Taylor and Bynum when Bynum posted a meme in the Queer Women’s Collective Facebook group, a page that originated in George Washington University’s meme group.
Taylor thought Bynum's post and the meme page itself were humorous and relatable, and asked AU students that were members of the Queer Women’s Collective Facebook group if AU should have its own meme page. Taylor said she received an overwhelming amount of positive replies from the members of the Queer Women’s Collective, so she announced that she’d create an AU meme group, she said.
“I asked for people to give name ideas, and someone suggested ‘AU Memes for Wonky Teens’ and I thought it was perfect,” Taylor said.
From then on, the group has become a place for students to share a laugh and poke fun at schools, majors, professors and other features of AU culture. Bynum enjoys seeing the wide variety of memes on the page, whether they make fun of politics, common major tropes or oddities on campus.
“We wanted to create this page as a way to bond over things that people love about this school, things that frustrate and exasperate students at this school, and things that make our school unique and quirky,” Bynum said. “It's all very lighthearted and fun, and a good way to de-stress during the school year and share a laugh with your fellow colleagues.”
Some students share memes in the group as a way to express their opinions about AU’s administration. Arden Tully, one of the group’s most active members, first joined the group because they like making memes, but they now make memes to voice their opinion.
“I like memes. I’m pretty active on leftbook [leftist Facebook], and I really enjoy having a community of people who grew up around the internet, who feel supported by the internet, and who aren’t extremely racist, sexist alt-right bros,” Tully said. “I felt very comfortable on the page, so I stayed.”
As comical as the group is, Taylor and Bynum have kept a close eye on the group’s content to make sure the jokes don’t go out of hand. At Harvard University, 10 students had their admission offers revoked for sharing offensive memes in a private Facebook group chat that were later shared with admissions staff.
With a new class of incoming freshmen requesting to join the group, Tully is concerned that the group could take a turn in the wrong direction if students start posting hurtful things about other students.
“I think there’s a big shock for some people who come to AU, who aren’t familiar with the way students are supposed to conduct themselves,” Tully said. “I don’t just mean complying with social justice or ‘respectability politics,’ I mean treating other students how you want to be treated. You think it would be simple? But no, people have already been banned for for practically bullying other students.”
Taylor and Bynum said they have already taken action against group members who Bynum and Taylor believed were abusing their privileges to post in the group. For example, they said they removed some users for posting offensive comments, photos and videos in the group when a Vietnamese man was dragged off a United Airlines flight in April.
In the last few months, the two administrators made it mandatory that all memes be approved before being posted onto the page to prevent members from sharing memes Bynum and Taylor find inappropriate. They have also excluded any non-AU related memes from the group.
“The memes were supposed to be funny,” Taylor said. “They were not meant to be attack other people. We don’t want one person ruining the space for other people.”
Taylor and Bynum said they hope the group will continue to serve as a “safe space” for students and alumni alike.
“I know a lot of people dislike the term ‘safe space,’ but that's what we want this meme page to be,” Bynum said. “A place to build community and poke fun at our school without having to deal with any racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic or otherwise ignorant tomfoolery.”