Last week, Loughborough University announced they would be launching an investigation into two of its students, resulting in the immediate suspension of one. This was the University’s response to what it referred to as a “racist and misogynistic” post on the “Loughborough Towersposting” Facebook group, a student run meme page. The offensive picture was posted to the “Discussion” section of the meme page by one of the students, an area where the posts are not vetted by the admins. The student that made the post was suspended, and the other student was an admin for the page. Should both receive the same punishment? Perhaps not, but the incident sets a scary precedent for how Universities should deal with student Facebook groups made in their name.
Memeperial, Imperial’s own meme page, has around 10,000 likes at time of writing. College is obviously aware of the page, as they have “borrowed” content from them on multiple occasions. However, no action has ever been taken against the admins of the group, nor has any contact been made between the admins of the page and College staff, despite some posts erring on the edgy side. Similar to Loughborough Towersposting, Memeperial also has a visitor posts section. Crucially, posts in this section do not require admin approval to be shared on the page, and so the same issue could occur here. That the admin for the page is being held accountable for what a user has submitted is ridiculous, but universities should have some influence in what is posted using their name and image. That the influence should extend to suspension of students is awful.
I can understand taking action against a student who intentionally posts content that can bring the college into disrepute. The college has a reputation to uphold and donations from alumni and associations with companies to protect. But what if a graduate posts damaging or offensive content? How about a student of another university? Without the option of suspension, would these institutions opt for a legal route to punish such pages? The latter example is not just a thought experiment: Anglia Ruskin Memes (a page about Anglia Ruskin University of all things) is run by Cambridge Uni students. Who is supposed to punish them if they post unsavoury content? Would Cambridge University take action and suspend the students? Would Anglia Ruskin take legal action?
While University should be a place where students are able to express themselves freely, an important part of being a student is being treated as a professional: this is where your career begins. Student activity can and does affect the bottom line of universities, either through donations from alumni or affecting admissions. That pages expect freedom to publish anything they want while using their University’s crest badly photoshopped to include Pepe the Frog is unreasonable. But freedom to criticise the uni you pay so much to attend is equally a vital part of the student experience, as shown by the wealth of media run by and presented to students in almost every university in the country.
Indeed, the content on many of these pages is of a similar nature to that published by student newspapers, operating outside the influence of the faculty. Often critical of their university, or faculties thereof, they are mostly free to post and publish whatever they want. Yet these pages don’t benefit from the protections and rights extended to them by the unions that fund these institutions. Perhaps unions adopting their related pages would solve this issue, providing protection for the admins of the pages, while adding some necessary checks on what is and isn’t posted in the university’s name.
The actions taken by Loughborough University have resulted in student pages being shut down, and this a trend that we’re beginning to see in universities across the country. That a large part of the community and modern student experience has been taken away is such a shame. With student newspapers and student unions seemingly unwilling or unable to fill this niche, meme pages are able to tap into an undercurrent of the student experience that adds a new dimension to university life. Perhaps that is why Imperial is so willing to allow Memeperial to continue posting its shite, as long as it does nothing to damage their bottom line. Whether it is adoption by the union, or some other solution, these pages need to find a way to stay afloat, while monitoring the content posted.