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Houston Baptist University Memes, a student-created Facebook page, gained nearly 300 followers overnight after its Feb. 12 debut and has since prompted a campus-wide debate after some individuals uploaded controversial posts targeting the University administration.
The page, which currently has more than 430 “likes” from members of the University community, includes more than 250 posts of trending memes (pronounced meems) that parody different aspects of the University.
Most memes, which are text superimposed on recognizable photos, have a backstory known to those who frequent social news websites, such as Reddit. People most often use the “Success Kid” template of a toddler pumping his fist, for example, to convey daily triumphs like finding front-row parking on campus after arriving late.
Freshman Lauren Otto said she and her friend Arianna Flack, also a freshman, created the Facebook page after noticing that many other universities like Rice University, the University of Texas and Stanford University have a large number of followers on their own unofficial Facebook meme pages.
“We were surprised that we didn’t have one, so we created it,” Otto said. “Most of the memes require people are posting reference experiences most people have had on the University campus.”
British scientist Richard Dawkins originally coined the term memes, which originates from a Greek word that means “something imitated,” in 1976 when he compared the spread of ideas in a culture to human genes. Viral Internet sensations, like Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video from 1987 that inspired “Rickrolling,” fall under the exhaustive memes category, but memes also include the latest campus craze found on the Facebook page.
The pictures poke fun at anything from food at the Baugh Center to campus flooding after rainfall — topics common to many members of the University community. A few of the memes, however, have prompted students to question the bounds of decency when it comes to posting content on a public forum. Some followers of the page posted pictures that mocked University administrators or faculty members, while others included profanity in their memes.
Several of the page’s visitors encouraged the page’s administrators, Otto and Flack, to remove these posts, but the two decided not to do so at the time.
Otto said she has urged people to use caution when creating their memes but that she did not want to remove someone else’s posts from the page.
“It’s not my job to take care of other people,” she said. “If it gets worse, and University administrators ask us to take anything down, then we will.”
Within days of the page’s late-night inception, students began posting memes that focused on possible repercussions, like losing scholarships, as a result of potentially insulting posts. One of the site’s users responsible for uploading pictures that mocked an individual faculty member removed some of his controversial posts, but several similar posts from others remain on the page. These posts could lead to repercussions if they violate the Student Code of Conduct.
Whit Goodwin, director of Student Life, who oversees the appeal process for those who violate the Student Code of Conduct, said he expects individuals associated with the University to uphold the values and guidelines set forth in the Student Handbook, not only on campus but also online.
“If a student breaks those guidelines in the Student Handbook, they will go through the appropriate judicial process,” Goodwin said. “I also encourage students to remember that everything they put online can be traced back to them. Pictures, words and comments all show a person’s character.”
One of the community standards outlined in the Student Handbook calls students to demonstrate respect for authority figures, including faculty, staff and student leaders.
Disrespect for an authority figure is classified as a level-two offense and warrants punishment under the Student Handbook.
Those in violation of the Student Code of Conduct will receive a notification from the student discipline administrator, Mark Endraske, director of residence life, who will then begin the judicial process. The accused student will have a chance to accept or deny the alleged violation, and, if he or she denies the accusation, Endraske may conduct an inquiry to determine if the punishment process will continue. After a punishment is decided, the student can appeal his or her case, which would then go to Goodwin. Punishment varies on a case-by-case basis, according to the Student Handbook.
Freshman Elizabeth Zapf, a fan of the Facebook page, said students who post offensive material should take responsibility for their actions and any resulting repercussions.
“There are consequences for every action,” she said. “I think the whole page is really funny, but something that has our name on it as a Baptist university should be more respectful.”
Several others who have seen the page agree with Zapf’s sentiment, including Dr. Collin Garbarino, assistant professor in history, about whom a few students posted.
Students posted facetious memes about discreetly texting in Garbarino’s class, and he jokingly responded with a comment on the page.
He said he found the posts about him humorous but that students should reflect on what they upload to the page before they post anything that could offend someone.
“I really like the fact that students are thinking creatively and trying to express how they feel in a humorous manner, and I think it builds a sense of community,” he said. “Students, however, need to realize that there can be consequences for their communication not just on the memes page but also in life in general. The page can be a good lesson for growing up and entering the real world.”