The Dark Underbelly of Claremont’s Meme Culture
The opinions in this article reflect the author’s only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Independent’s editorial board.
Update: Pomona College has launched an Incident Response Team headed by Dean Ric Townes to investigate the secret Facebook meme group “U PC BREAUX.”
According to Pomona College disciplinary policies and procedures, “[t]he College has established an Incident Response Team (IRT) to address issues relating to hate crimes and bias-related incidents. The IRT is composed of the Dean of Students or their designee, one or two staff members in Student Affairs, one or two members of the faculty, and student representatives chosen from the campus community. All members of the IRT must be Pomona faculty, students, or staff.”
This past Monday, September 18, I was invited into a secret Facebook meme group called “U PC BREAUX.” This group consisted of 304 persons, most of whom were Claremont Colleges students, had existed since at least December of 2016, and contained images and comments so vile that they would be right at home in the comments section of The Daily Stormer.
Why did my peers in the group say nothing?
These memes included a joke about turning in undocumented immigrants to ICE because they were being too loud, an obscene image depicting a man ejaculating while thinking about the Holocaust, an image of a woman and her daughter in front of a school bus with the text implying that the woman is going to use her daughter in a suicide bombing, a post making light of the June 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack, and countless images and comments mocking and sexualizing the appearance of women.
Common themes in the group included mocking feminists, those who reject the gender binary, making racist jokes, making light of incidents in which deaths occur, and belittling safe spaces.
These posts numbered in the hundreds, if not thousands.
The group’s described purpose was attracting “funny and anti-pc” content. “Anything you find that is funny and anti-pc… POST IT!” the description read. “If you get offended by anything either have the nerve to debate someone over it or just realize getting offended is your fault for being a snowflake. Most importantly, have a laugh.”
The most egregious memes were posted by a small cast of characters who frequently posted content; however, the leftover 290-odd group members routinely saw these memes, read the comments, occasionally liked some of the less offensive posts, and then went about their business.
I reached out to many people whom I knew in the group, many of whom were surprised and disgusted by the most offensive memes and indicated a desire to leave the group. This could be because group members were able to add their friends to the group without their consent, friends who then turned off notifications for the page rather than leaving the group altogether.
“Someone added me to the group but there were so many notifications that I muted it unless my friends posted,” said one group member who didn’t want his name mentioned in the article. “I had no idea how much hateful content the group generated.”
However, the person who added me obviously thought there was enough funny content in the group to spread the word, as did many of the other group members who added their friends. I find it hard to believe that before muting the group new members didn’t poke around a bit. I did, and it took me less than a minute to realize that “U PC BREAUX” was anything but funny.
I realize that the increasing level of hate speech is a nationwide epidemic. But it was one thing for me to see that Harvard rescinded the acceptances of ten incoming first years for posting memes about sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children. It was another to see my own friends and peers like, share, or ignore this type of content.
That so many of my peers could see these posts and say nothing makes me fear that there is a dark undercurrent of apathy in our culture that is more pervasive than we care to admit. We all know that bystander culture—the tendency to do nothing when confronted with objectionable content or action in a group setting—is real, but so rarely do we get to see an example in which so many people declined to act for such a long period of time when confronted with such heinous behavior.
If these students didn’t say anything in this group, can they really be expected to report on physical violence or virtual violence now and in the future?
I asked the group administrator—a Pomona student and one of the most frequent posters—whether he would speak to me for this piece. He expressed no remorse for administering the meme group, claimed to not be an active group member despite being one of the most frequent posters, and denied that the group was alt-right.
Instead, he said that “the group is for memes against cultural authoritarianism, and very moderate talking points…. Anyone clearly expressing hate towards an individual or certain group is removed from the page.”
He also said that he couldn’t account for any racist memes on the page and that he encouraged all members to report posts that violate social media policy.
Indeed, the administrator created and commented on some of the very worst memes that were described at the beginning of this article and that will be shown below.
The Pomona College code lists as violations acts of speech where “the student intends the speech to be abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas” as well as when, “the speech, considered objectively, is abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas.”
When asked if he felt posts in the group violated the code, the administrator said “The page is aimed at intellectual enquiry and discourse that is not constrained by social justice and largely arbitrary political correctness. If that is a thought crime at this college then make everyone in the group an unperson.”
This lack of remorse makes worse the already unforgivable content of the page.
I strongly urge Pomona, as well as the other Claremont Colleges whose students have posted in violation of their rules and regulations, to hold group members and the page administrator accountable for what they have posted. I have documented and preserved much of the content in the hopes that the administration takes this matter seriously.
And to my fellow students: If you see something, please say something. This may seem simple, but it certainly wasn’t for the majority of “U PC BREAUX”. Even if the administration doesn’t act, at least some students have expressed remorse and have had to confront their own prejudices, and at least a group like this is now a bit less likely to appear again at the Claremont Colleges.
Update: A previous version of this article indicated that the meme page had been deleted. As it turns out, the administrator of the page gave a false statement to the Independent. The page is still active, though the author no longer has access to it.
Rather than further describing the most offensive memes, I have decided to post them at the bottom of this article to fully and viscerally convey how vile they are. Please be advised that these memes may be upsetting to readers.