A typical day for Chas Steinbrugge ’24 starts out like many others on campus — he goes to class, has meals with friends and studies in the library. But, unlike most students, Steinbrugge is often posting jokes about the University on his ever-growing Instagram page, @brownumemes.
The page has seen a surge in popularity — gaining more 1,300 followers — since the University announced more stringent temporary COVID-19 restrictions after recording 82 positive cases the week of Sept. 13. Steinbrugge quickly began crafting and sharing memes that pointed out what he called “hypocrisy in the administration” and that reflected complaints about the restrictions, to the popular reception of students and parents alike.
The Instagram account was born of the COVID-19 pandemic and has amassed more 7,000 followers. Many students go to @brownumemes to find memes, laugh about strange events on campus or commiserate about ever-changing COVID restrictions.
Steinbrugge has been creating and sharing memes since he was a freshman in high school. He runs the Instagram account @trigomemetry, on which he spoofs the issue of meme plagiarism by reposting Tweets with permission from creators along with MLA citations. The account currently has more than 174,000 followers.
Steinbrugge began @brownumemes, previously named @brown2024memes, during summer 2020 after members of the class of 2024 were informed that they would not be on campus until the following spring. “I thought of it as a way to unite the freshmen who wouldn’t be together,” Steinbrugge said. “The goal of the meme account is to joke about things that everyone’s going through so that we can cope through humor.”
Popular content on the account include jokes about long lines at dining halls and footage of wildlife entering community buildings, with one popular meme captioned “Breaking news: a skunk entered the Ratty today.”
Nathan Ramrakhiani ’23, a follower of the account and self-proclaimed “meme aficionado,” took a particular liking to the post about the skunk.
“My friends know I’m critical of Brown Dining so I think I said something like ‘the skunk probably walked into the Ratty and walked out and just decided to eat trash for the rest of his life because it was a better option,’” Ramrakhiani said.
In addition to memes and lighthearted clips about campus events, the @brownumemes feed has also featured criticism of University policies and practices around COVID. Some of these critiques come in the form of traditional memes, while other posts don’t include a punchline.
Steinbrugge characterizes this new mix of content as a venture into “a new form of student journalism where you can quickly respond to new administrative policies or things going on on campus at a really fast response rate.”
Many University students, such as Andrew Truss ’24, agree that @brownumemes has turned into a pseudo news site. As a “traditional” meme fan, Truss noted that although he does not find many of the posts as funny as typical “wacko Gen-Z humor” meme accounts, he simply follows Steinbrugge’s account to stay up to date with campus news and to keep “tabs on things going on either with admin or on campus.”
“A lot of people will say it’s their favorite news source, and I have to agree. Sometimes it is easier to get news from memes, and it’s been helpful as an outlet for the random things that Brown does,” said Christopher Vanderpool ’24.
While Vanderpool enjoys liking and commenting on @brownumemes posts, he said that at times the content can be over-critical and “unproductive.” Specifically, regarding the post of dumpsters lining the dining halls, he said “that the one in front of (the) Greg is actually here because otherwise the trash would be overflowing.”
Truss also feels that the page features too many complaints in lieu of constructive solutions.
“A lot of times it just seems like ‘okay, Brown is hypocritical.’ That’s kind of old news. What should we do about it?” he said. “A lot of things they’re complaining about like COVID regulations are actually necessary precautions.”
“I’m not necessarily preaching against certain restrictions,” Steinbrugge said. “I’m just pointing out how the restrictions are to the detriment of students but argue they’re not followed or are way more lenient when it comes to administrators and their events.”
The University has defended its implementation of new restrictions as necessary to effectively manage an evolving public health situation, The Herald previously reported. “Knowing that increases (in positive cases) with this particular (Delta variant) can be relatively quick, we wanted to take some steps to prevent that,” Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 previously told The Herald.
Despite these concerns, several students feel the page provides a good outlet for students to share their thoughts. “I feel like @brownumemes came up out of the (class of 2024’s) frustrations with our situation,” Vanderpool said. He explained that the meme page was an especially helpful outlet for venting anxiety or annoyances with the restrictions implemented in the week of Sept. 13.
“When the most recent COVID restrictions first went into place, I was worried this would turn out to be another spring semester all over again,” he said. “Overall I’d say (the memes are) a really good way to express feelings.”
Ramrakhiani agrees with these sentiments, and views the account as a way for people to channel their frustrations. But, at the end of the day, many students turn to the page for the same reason they do most other meme accounts — for a simple laugh.
Nicolette Ducharme ’25, a thrower on the University’s track and field team, was first introduced to @brownumemes when an older teammate showed it to her while she was touring campus. The account gave her a glimpse into the Brown community before she officially committed.
“I won’t say it influenced me committing but it definitely influenced my view of the school,” she said. “It was a funny page and showed the sense of humor that a lot of people at the school share.”
Ducharme thinks the account “brings people together.” She and her friends often laugh over posts on the page. In turn, she shows posts to people that do not have Instagram.
“It’s just a conversation starter,” said Ducharme. “It’s really funny.”
Rebecca Carcieri is an arts & culture editor. She is a senior from Warwick, Rhode Island studying political science.
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.