Samuel Becker, a co-founder of the UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens page, holds up a sticker depicting one of the group's unofficial logos. Photo by Robin Roper.
A departure from the manicured content produced by the institutions themselves, student-run meme pages are becoming staples of the college experience across the US. They can be host to anything from Student Government Association discourse, to university updates, to several months of Is This Loss spam — to which any of the thousands of members of the UMBC’s Facebook meme group can attest. The current and most consistent title for that group is “UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens,” though it is impossible to know how long that name will stay; within the past year, the group has been called “UMBC memes for bracket-breaking teens” and “Fire Paul Dillon,” a testament to how it stays unapologetically relevant with significant events at the school.
Born in 2016, this page is the second generation of the pre-2013 relic “UMBC Memes.” The latter features classics like Forever Alone and One Does Not Simply, and its last post is a simple call from early 2012 to keep the page hate-free — with nine likes.
“Those are like ancient memes,” laughs senior information systems major Samuel Becker, who co-created UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens alongside his brother Joshua. “There was definitely lacking a single community meme page [in 2016].” Sensing a need, the two set up a page for UMBC and, as it grew, began bringing on new admins.
“My first choice [for the position of admin] was Ari Page, one of my oldest friends,” Becker explains. “Zach Clifton was from UMBC Progressives … it’s sort of a loose process.” At present, there are nine people managing the page in total, but that number is expected to grow as they age out. When asked for his post-graduation plans regarding the group, Samuel indicated no intention of leaving — but he does expect to offload his responsibilities to future members.
Despite a few spin-off attempts, UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens remains the obvious social media hub for student life at a school that is often disparaged for having a disengaged student body. It is solidifying itself as a representation of an influence on UMBC culture — much like UMBC Memes was in its heyday. Unlike its predecessor, however, this leadership is not afraid of a little controversy. Members endorse political candidates, criticize the definition of gender in official school surveys and even kindled a firestorm over still-ongoing allegations of sexual assault case mishandling at the university. Without the necessary diplomacy of institutional responses, members can be much more confrontational about community issues. In this way, UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens is not your 2012 graduate’s meme page.
At the same time, UMBC’s meme culture is still for anyone to enjoy. Join rates jumped following a historic March Madness win against the University of Virginia earlier this year, and membership now includes current students, alumni, general Marylanders and even the occasional UMBC professor among others. In fact, co-creator Joshua Becker actually attends Princeton, though acknowledging this in the group is touted as a ban-able offense. In March, the University of Maryland, College Park’s page changed its title in deference to UMBC’s basketball victory, an example of how school meme pages can build relationships at and between universities. Characterizing what many still see largely as a commuter campus, UMBC Memes for Smoke-Free Teens is how people stay connected within the school.
Be it squirrels or crashed police cars, the content showcases the inside jokes and the experiences of being involved with UMBC. Any community member can find something to laugh at and relate to, and controversies aside, it is not so opposed to the no-hate-please philosophy of UMBC Memes. Under the group description, it is still listed as a “family.”