Many university students rely on meme pages to keep them going during the semester. These pages often provide insight into life as a university student and the culture at that specific university. However, this does not come without its flaws.

In an article from The Daily Northwestern, the point at which the university experience and culture in memes shifts to telling students how to behave. In some instances, meme pages could be implicated for potentially reinforcing toxic elements of the university. This can include perpetuating laziness or normalising the lack of academic success at a university.

In addition to this, the moderators of these pages also have to ensure that all perspectives are shared in a manner that effectively
relates back to the university’s experiences and culture – making it relevant to all students. This sometimes means having to share a meme that may be considered controversial by some students yet still relevant to the general student experience.

Many of UP’s university meme pages promote a culture of “it is what it is” and the overall belief that a large majority of students are unable to be academically successful during their time at UP. This often results in students feeling as if this is the experience they should be having at university. It normalises these behaviours and views. This is known as the “sleeper effect”.

Michael Schenk, from the University of Hohenheim, wrote a journal article on the sleeper effect. In this article Schenk described
the sleeper effect as a psychological phenomenon where messages from sources with generally low credibility cause opinion to change over time. This is exactly what university meme pages have the potential to do. Over time, students begin to normalise the toxic nature of university life and culture as meme pages encourage a play-hard culture with little focus on academic success.

Many students follow a university’s meme pages when trying to determine which university to attend. This is done because the meme pages are said to accurately reflect the experiences the student will have while attending that specific university. This is not necessarily good. If university meme pages continue to promote the toxic elements of a university’s culture and the overall experience, it has the potential to cast a negative shadow over life at that university.

While meme pages can be used to promote and normalise the toxic elements of a university, they also have the potential to reverse that culture and create a more positive view of that specific university.

On a more positive note, meme pages can be used to destigmatise certain things that may be issues for the general student population. This could include occasionally failing a test or destigmatising the stress and academic pressure students are experiencing. According to The Daily Northwestern, meme pages can also be used to grapple with systemic injustices that are experienced on campus. This can be done by giving students a platform for them to voice their feelings and views on injustices they may be experiencing within the university.

University meme pages ultimately provide an outlet for students to voice their views and opinions relating to the university in a
humorous way with a quick and easy-to-reach audience. Because of this, the pages have the ability to work as a sort of public forum. Through the use of polls and questions on Instagram stories, the meme pages get insight into how the students are feeling about certain general university topics as well as their views and opinions on specific university experiences. According to Mashable, meme pages are part of the university experience and have become a direct way for students to voice their opinions to school administration. The article further mentions that every generation has their own way of communicating with one another, and the current university-going generation uses memes as that method of communication.

University meme pages can be a great way for students to express their frustrations and share their common experiences. However, the pages can also promote inter-school rivalry by depicting certain degrees above others and promoting a toxic work-hard, play-harder culture. However, it must be accepted that conversations about the toxicity of university culture will not happen on these meme pages. They do, however, start the conversation and have the potential to allow for reflection and a possible reform of said toxic culture.

Ultimately, university meme pages have the potential to be harmful. However, their supposed harmfulness does not come without some positivity as students are able to publicly express their frustrations and bond over shared experiences. This is something that few platforms have the ability to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image: Masehle Mailula

Features journalist | view posts

Hi I'm Lauren, I'm passionate about writing and run a personal blog called Life on my Wall (@lifeonmywall). I enjoy writing about student issues and minority group experiences.