As an admin of “Kevin G’s Big L Meme Self-Quarantine (UNC),” a Facebook group that comprises over 16,000 members, senior Jordan Sheely’s responsibilities typically include combing through meme submissions, approving new members and ensuring things don’t get out of hand in the comments.
“It’s really not that much,” Sheely said of the job. “I find it fun.”
Sheely said if you look at the engagement graph for the group – whose name the admins change depending on the circumstances – you’ll notice that group activity peaks around Duke games. Sheely checked the graph recently, curious how engagement had fared amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sheely found a spike over three times as tall as the others.
He attributed this heightened activity to the student body’s collective boredom. “Everybody’s at home and doesn’t have anything to do,” Sheely said, laughing, “including myself.”
As UNC students continue their studies while separated by quarantine, they’re making, liking and sharing memes that poke fun at the struggles of online schooling and social distancing.
Although laughing at a global pandemic doesn’t sound very helpful, Sheely said, it does aid students with weathering the situation. Sheely said relating with others’ disappointment can be comforting and reassuring.
“You see that, ‘Wow, I'm not the only one that feels like this. I'm not the only one that feels robbed of my commencement and my senior bar golf and LDOC and all that stuff,’” Sheely said. “‘There are other people out there who are feeling the same way I do.’”
Junior Christian DeSimone, one of the moderators of “Kevin G’s Big L Meme Self-Quarantine,” said memes can help students bond over uncertainty.
“Not necessarily making light of the coronavirus,” DeSimone said, “but more like trying to help lighten everybody up to where, instead of being super worried and anxious, that you can at least get a chuckle out of a lighthearted joke that someone else is making, knowing that everybody's going through the same thing and experiencing the same stuff right now."
Senior H’Abigail Mlo, a member of “Kevin G’s Big L Meme Self-Quarantine,” said that although the meme page is always in use, the group is especially active in times like this – even more so because students are now unable to connect in person. Since most people have a smartphone and can download Facebook, Mlo said, memes are relatively accessible and, in some ways, universal.
“Anyone can tap in and find a reason to laugh,” Mlo said, “especially when it is such a kind of dark time right now.”
Mlo recently started following the UNC-focused account of the campus humor brand The Black Sheep on social media – “Just because I just really need that humor right now,” she said.
Junior Josh Massey has posted several memes on “Kevin G’s Big L Meme Self-Quarantine” recently. Since students are now dispersed geographically, Massey said, their means of interacting are fundamentally altered.
“There's different levels of trauma and different levels of having to cope with this situation that we're seeing,” Massey said. “And I think through something like the meme page, it's kind of a form of cultural solidarity. Like, if you see other people are in the same boat as you are, other people are having the same experiences as you are, you can sympathize and you can empathize with them.”
The merits of using humor to cope have some backing in psychology.
Kristen Lindquist, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UNC, said people deal with stressful situations by trying to regulate their emotions. She said when you feel a negative emotion, you can try to change your emotional state through either adaptive or maladaptive behavior. Enjoying humor, she said, is an example of the former.
“You know, what makes something humorous is that it is a little bit rule-violating, or sort of mildly poking fun at norms,” Lindquist said. “And so, it’s a positive way of changing your outlook on the situation temporarily."
Junior Mo Van de Sompel, who is self-quarantining at home in New Mexico, said that since talking to other students in person is no longer an option, visiting “Kevin G’s Big L Meme Self-Quarantine” frequently helps to get a sense of how other students at UNC are feeling. Van de Sompel said that going forward, meme communities like Kevin G’s will help students connect while they’re apart.
"I think it's probably going to be people's number one source of feeling like they're still a student,” Van de Sompel said.
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