Dispersed from campus, college students turn to meme page for community, charity

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Art by Danielle Faust

The Zoom Memes for Quaranteens cover photo. Moderators called for cover art submissions, and members voted to determine the winner.

Eva Herscowitz, Reporter

COVID-19 may have closed college campuses, but the switch to remote learning has given rise to a group larger than any individual institution’s enrollment nationwide.

The Facebook group “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens” has connected college students seeking humor amid canceled graduations, social distancing and grim news. Carnegie Mellon University freshman Mehul Agarwal and Shreyan Bakshi (CMU ‘19) created the group, which several other college students help moderate. Since then, the group has exploded, and membership is nearing 500,000.

Moderators say the group, which plans to release merchandise this Friday, has grown beyond memes. Fundraisers, sub-groups and acts of generosity have made Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens a “community,” moderator and Northwestern student Shanzana Rashid said.

“Even though it’s a meme page, people started seeing this as a community for people affected by coronavirus,” the Communication junior said. “Our group is basically showing what online university could look like. Everyone is naturally finding ways to connect with other people.”

In the group, content varies. Some posts poke fun at professors struggling to incorporate technology into seminar-based classes. Others lament students’ lack of exercise since “transferring to Zoom University.” Some users have posted iconic backgrounds — the Windows XP wallpaper, a still of the ocean floor in Finding Nemo — for members to save and select as virtual Zoom backgrounds.

Medill freshman Teresa Nowakowski said she checks the group a few times a day. She said she’s drawn to the community: while her family might not understand what it’s like to be a college student during a pandemic, the nearly 500,000 group members do. She posted a meme satirizing humanities majors like herself who don’t understand the coronavirus-fueled recession. As the sister of a medical resident, she said comedy can reduce fear.

“It’s really important to have the humor, because otherwise it can get really dark,” she said. “It just feels very surreal. Making jokes makes it a little more real in terms of trying to comprehend it, but also a little less panicky.”

Some members capitalized on the large membership of Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens by creating and publicizing other pages. Many of these offshoot sub-groups function as virtual extracurriculars. There’s Zeta Omicron Omicron Mu, an 11,000-member group for college students involved in Greek life. Zoom University Marching Band calls itself “The Pride of The Internet,” and Zoom University Hillel averages 100 posts a day.

Moderators agreed supervising the group is time-consuming; they’ve drafted group rules, organized spreadsheets and hosted Zoom meetings. But approving thousands of backlogged posts is practically impossible, moderator and CMU student Lucas Moiseyev said. While the electrical computer engineering senior said he usually limits the time he spends on Facebook, the social media platform has become “a permanent tab on the browser” since he applied to moderate the group. He added that what was once a group intended for college students now has a share of baby boomer members.

Moiseyev said the group has become a “brand.” Members have raised over $4,000 for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and moderators are donating a portion of the money earned from the merchandise launch to charities fighting coronavirus. Some funds will go to artists of the merchandise; Northwestern student Nicole Zhang, a Bienen and Weinberg junior, is overseeing the launch organized through University Tees.

Moderators are considering registering a copyright for the group’s name.

“We don’t really care if people use ‘Self Quaranteens,’ Moiseyev said. “We want to have the ability to protect against someone blatantly copying the group and selling merch for profit instead of for charity.”

The group has received much media attention: The New York Times wrote about it, and The Atlantic featured the group in a story about Zoom parties.

Though she’s unsure how long the group will last, University of California, Berkeley junior and moderator Rachel Wang said she hopes the group makes college students laugh.

“I hope people just remember it fondly,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a big part of all of our lives.”

Email: evaherscowitz2023@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @herscowitz

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