“This is the meme account we’ve needed.”
This is just one of the comments left under an Instagram post, featuring four images of Kermit the Frog rolling up a car window with the caption: “When you see some thot throwing up her guts outside an off campus and nearly invite her into your shuttle back to school but suddenly remember that she cut you in the egg line last Sunday.”
This post, along with 50 others that share similar satire with undercurrents of harsh social critique, can be found on the “realmemesofUR” Instagram account. The account has become a platform for criticism that primarily appeals to marginalized students, according to the population of minority students who follow the account and the account owner.
The account’s owner and operator, who agreed to an interview with The Collegian under the condition of anonymity, started the account in July after seeing other University of Richmond meme Instagram pages and thinking they weren’t doing a good enough job, the owner said.
RealmemesofUR currently has over 1,200 Instagram followers, almost half of UR’s total undergraduate enrollment.
One of its most popular memes describes UR’s “layers of hell,” criticizing everything from the “egg line” in the dining hall to students who paint coolers for fraternity away weekends “in exchange for the privilege of sharing a bed in some sketchy beach/mountain house.”
“That’s your breakfast,” Carly Kilgore, senior, said. “Why does that have to be something that’s so negative?”
Kilgore said she sent the account a direct message after the account’s owner posted a meme that directly targeted one of her friends.
Kilgore and the account’s owner exchanged several messages about the account’s purpose and what it was trying to achieve, which ultimately led to the owner deciding to shut down the account.
“I found the account fun and getting all of this criticism was making it not fun,” the realmemes owner said. “I thought, well, it’s kind of making this a chore and kind of emotionally taxing, so why would I be spending my time doing this?”
Despite Kilgore’s criticism, the owner decided to bring the account back online almost a month later, on Aug. 15, right before the start of the school year.
The decision to bring it back came from the number of people who reached out to show their support of the account, and asked that it not be shut down, the owner said.
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Many of the messages the owner received were from students who related to how the account portrayed the university, but who lacked a platform to express their thoughts, the owner said.
“They were really happy to see some concerns articulated on a platform that had a wide audience,” the owner said. “In a way, I think a lot of people were contacting me, encouraging me to continue because they were engaging in the criticism vicariously.”
Georges Leconte, sophomore, often leaves comments on the account’s posts to show his support.
“It’s to reassure the person who’s running it that, yes, these are things I agree with, these are things that are happening and I can laugh at them as well,” Leconte said.
Leconte, who is a person of color and does not belong to a fraternity, said that the account has done a good job of calling out the problems he sees in the social atmosphere on campus.
There is a cycle existing at UR in which students “work hard, get messed up on the weekends, and rinse, repeat, do it all again until graduation, or hospitalization,” Leconte said.
“I think it’s always refreshing to see somebody who can point out the lesser point of Richmond culture,” he said. “When you’re in that cycle, it’s easy to think that there’s nothing else and that this is the best way to live.”
This cycle is largely dominated by Greek life because party culture on UR’s campus is primarily ruled by Greek life, Leconte said.
“I think that if you’re in a fraternity or sorority, then realmemesofUR might not be the place for you, just because you might feel attacked,” Leconte said. “It does call out some of the behavior on campus that is pertinent to fraternities and sororities.”
Kilgore, who is the president of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, said that the account does harm to campus culture.
“The social climate at Richmond probably doesn’t need something pumping more negative energy into it and highlighting all these negative aspects of it,” Kilgore said. “I don’t feel like any of this stuff was not exposed before. I think it’s well known that Richmond has these very firm stereotypes.”
The account’s owner disagreed with this sentiment.
The account provides a platform for fun and thoughtful criticism of UR’s culture, the owner said. This is especially evident when it comes to minority students on campus, because the majority of people who have messaged the account in support have been students of color, the owner said.
“I think that that speaks to the fact that you can point to whatever statistics you want concerning the makeup of our school, but the campus just feels very white,” the owner said. “There is a vibe of wealth and privilege. The fact is that even a lot of the social apparatuses that govern our campus, namely Greek life, seem to be constituted largely of white students.”
The account’s owner said he has a unique viewpoint that gives him a means to criticize the campus in a different way.
“I feel like I have one foot in people who feel, in some way, disenfranchised by the institutions on this campus, but I also look like I would relate to everyone who loves it here,” the owner said. “So while I am a privileged, white, upper-class, straight male, that isn’t enough to say you’re gonna have a great time at the university.”
But one question remains to be seen: Is the realmemesofUR Instagram account enough to change the social problems the owner said he wants to change?
For Kilgore, the answer is no.
“I see no positive change coming from this,” Kilgore said. “Maybe that’s because I’m the kind of person who’s an optimist. If anything, I think it will vaguely change some people’s perceptions. But it’s not some documentary that’s exposing the other side.”
For Professor Mari Lee Mifsud’s rhetoric class, this type of discourse is having an effect.
The meme account has been brought up in multiple rhetoric classes, Mifsud said.
“The students raised it as an example of a digital artifact of University of Richmond discourse formations,” Mifsud said. “How we study how these memes get formed and what functions and effects they have are fascinating questions.”
Byongho Lee, senior, is an Asian-American who messaged the account encouraging the owner to continue posting.
The account would be more successful if the owner revealed his identity, Lee said.
“It’s not as successful as maybe someone standing up and having a face,” he said. “It’s like that whole superhero theory. If they’re wearing a mask, they’re obviously gonna represent something, but do you actually see it changing?”
Kilgore said the UR administration should approach the owner so that the owner could actually do something to change campus culture, instead of continuing to post.
“It’s important that he has all these opinions,” Kilgore said. “It’s almost worse that he’s seeing all these things that need to be changed and he’s not doing anything. I feel like it’s almost working against the cycle.”
For the account owner and operator, the memes are meant to reach students who don’t feel as if they have a place at UR, the owner said.
“I think that I’m not making any grand claims of being this great social mover,” the owner said. “But I think it’s important to let students who don’t feel at home at the university for various reasons to know there are people who empathize with that position.”
Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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