If you’ve been on social media and found memes that were dunking on President Schill or otherwise referencing people and places on the University of Oregon campus, it’s highly likely that they came from one of two UO meme pages: the private Facebook group “Edgy Memes for University of Oregon Green Teens” or the public Instagram page, @edgeyuo. Both pages are unaffiliated with the UO and comment on university and local politics.
2020 grad Nathan Sharpiro created “Edgy Memes for University of Oregon Green Teens” in 2016 as a “gag,” modeled after Facebook meme pages and groups from other universities like UC Berkeley and UCLA. He added his friends and made them moderators, but only he and Tyler Cardiel, a 2019 graduate, actively moderate.
“When I created [the group] I thought it would just be me and 12 other people that share dumb jokes with each other, but I’m just amazed how much it grew over the last two, three years,” Shapiro said.
These Facebook and Instagram pages did not originally intend to be political but, since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, they have had to reevaluate what their spaces looked like.
“With politics in the group, eventually me and the other admins came to the conclusion it’ll get brought up somehow. If it’s in meme format, we don’t want it to be inflammatory and we don’t want to stir things up,” Shapiro said. “No proverbial food fights in the group.”
One of the Facebook group’s original rules was to not have any political content, only allowing non-political memes. However, members railed against the rule after using the group to share more than just memes.
“I had removed a post about BLM and a lot of people didn’t like it because there was no other place for them to coordinate and altogether talk about it,” Cardiel said. “After COVID-19 [limited in-person interaction], there was no place for centralizing info, no space for people to organize things, so people were using our group to share ideas about BLM and organizing.”
Following the backlash, Shapiro and Cardiel added a new rule that posting pertinent information would be permitted as long as the information, political or not, remained local and was run past them first.
“It kind of grew into a space where people talk about UO issues where there is no other space to talk about it, especially post-COVID where everything has to be online,” Cardiel said. “But it’s still mostly memes.”
On the Instagram side, @edgeyuo’s moderator, Karen Steele, 2020 graduate, created their account in February 2019 and modeled it like the Facebook group. Steele, who uses they/them/their pronouns, was originally only posting memes from the Facebook group, but eventually left it, posting memes – including political ones – that they created themself or were sent in by followers. Steele originally ran the account anonymously, but is now okay with being known.
“Some people have asked about not being political on the page,” Steele said. “For me personally, as a woman and in the LGBTQ community, it’s impossible to remain silent about human rights. Human rights are not opinions when we’re talking about people, like trans rights.”
Political memes that pointed out where the UO fell short were a starting point for conversations how the university handled diversity and inclusion, including conversations about race, Steele said.
One of Steele’s most-liked posts is a grainy screenshot of President Schill taken from the virtual town hall. The quoted text reads: “To show that we condemn white supremacy, police violence and Oregon’s anti-black history, we have decided to rename Deady Hall!” In smaller text, framed with asterisks to refer to the text as Schill’s internal thoughts is: “frantically hopes students don’t realize he’s using racialized, forced prison labor to to cheaply manufacture all campus furniture.”
“[Memes are] a more eye-catching way to get people’s attention, so if they see a meme they don’t understand, they’re more compelled to go look at it,” Shapiro said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this is how students get news, because it’s UO related so they’re more likely to go check it out. Like, I wouldn’t have known about the virtual town hall if I hadn’t seen that people were making memes of it.”
Steele attributes the easy shareability to the student population’s “general dislike of President Schill and how things are run,” citing their page’s most popular post being ones “taking hits at him.”
Correction on July 17: This article initially misspelled Karen Steele's last name. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.