The ubiquity of social media is launching university meme pages to be a cornerstone of university culture. Not only do they function for a shared laugh among students, but they play a latent role in satirizing and provoking university life.
At the University of Exeter, the 20s have seen an uptick of meme pages mostly concentrated on Instagram. These memes are easy to make and they follow niche formats of the zeitgeist – ones that could only be replicated by those of a generation who engage with these memes frequently. In this sense, they uniquely speak to a wide community of students without association with an organization–something that is surprisingly limited in a university setting; the Guild encompasses societies, the AU holds sports, and just about all the rest falls under the Uni’s umbrella. These memes “feel as though they are true student feelings, rather than a marketing tool” expresses a student. Profiles label themselves “the people’s memes” and make clear that they are not affiliated with the University. Their position stands outside of the Guild and the University whilst still maintaining a large following of Exeter students.
[They] feel as though they are true student feelings, rather than a marketing tool.
“I feel like this account was a way to express my views on the Uni in a fun and humorous way and bring awareness into issues that I see at the Uni and around Exeter,” the anonymous owner of ‘2exetah4u’ tells Exeposè through Instagram messenger. They continue, “I think that accounts like these are important for a thriving university culture as a way of building a strong community.”
Boasting nearly 2,500 followers, ‘2exetah4u’ knows of their position in the University’s cultural conversation. The owner originally began sharing university-oriented memes on their personal account before switching to this anonymous profile as a fresher in 2021. The owner recounts that when they first joined they “saw a massive gap in uni meme accounts that actively engage with followers where the content felt real and genuine.” They feel as though they are able to add to the university experience in “a subtle way”. With this position, the owner describes a sense of responsibility due to their “following and the outreach of the account”. Other accounts, like “eulowcultsoc” which holds a modest, but growing following of 138, rejected the idea of critiquing altogether: “I don’t feel like I necessarily critique the Uni, just state facts”, they maintain.
The provocative format gives these owners the ability to critique what they believe the University needs to improve in a liberated way. As ‘2exetah4u’ expresses “I think the uni has a long way to go in improving student experiences. One of these main aspects would be mental health” wherein they believe services are “woefully unfit given that the Uni has increased in student numbers and also in pressures felt by students.” They also expand on the rising student population: “I think that the Uni needs to expand capacity before taking in more students. The rise of student numbers with the same teaching and physical infrastructure puts a toll onto the student experience but also a strain on our professors.” Captions of their memes on accommodations are coupled with similar thoughts “the Uni accepts more students than it can accommodate” which have garnered 530 student likes. They further explain that “as a person of colour, the Uni has made progress making it a better environment, yet, it still has a long way to go” a comment with sources rooted in the University’s EDI termly report.
I think that the Uni needs to expand capacity before taking in more students. The rise of student numbers with the same teaching and physical infrastructure puts a toll onto the student experience but also a strain on our professors.
“Eulowcultsoc” describes that the University “could start realizing that the way they are structured informs the structures of A-Levels” and that the University could do better by “taking its structure and system out of the Victorian era and into the 21st century whilst cutting the money-grubbing hands of all the private interests” that they believe are not beneficial to the interest of students.
Despite all of their provocations, it seems these meme pages are unafraid of censorship by the University: “I have yet to come into issues with censorship but it does cross my mind every now and then,” 2exetah4u comments. Under University Freedom of Speech laws, censorship is unlikely. Unless these accounts spread misinformation, defamation or libel these accounts would not be subjected to this censorship. Whilst controversial, memes posted by 2exetah4u on the Shell Partnership, Market Place food prices, or the Bracton Law Society are all safe under the free speech law. Just as well, light-hearted memes about the University being an oasis for “Oxbridge rejects” to collective lore about club nights maintain reliability without being defamation.
Some assert that meme pages are becoming a driver in how students choose Universities.
Some assert that meme pages are becoming a driver in how students choose Universities. One report in 2019 suggests that meme pages are nearing the primary source of campus news – though they neglect to add evidence to this statement. With quick publishing to hundreds of students coupled with the way students interact with social media, this could very well be true. Another 2022 study documents that 71% of Gen Z respondents (aged 16-24) use Instagram. A 2019 study reported that 65% of the generation uses Instagram daily. Not to mention the algorithmic nature of the platform, which curates a feed based on those a user follows and engages with. The great influence of social media among the youth is making a dent in the way current and prospective students interact with the University.
These accounts are perpetuating collective beliefs gathered by students who are privy to sharing University talking points. Such shared narratives are rooted in experiences of the University and, when untethered to an organization, they are valuable mirrors of it.
“When I graduate, I’m going to log off and not log back in,” 2exetah4u tells Exeposè. “I think that in time other similar content creators will emerge, and having the account still produce content under my name stifles creativity which is essential in memes.”
Perhaps, in time, universities will recognise the undeniable merit that these accounts play in student life. For now, 2exetah4u among others, are taking to Instagram to define the university for future and present students.