"Not sure if electrical engineering class . . . or Chang family reunion."
"Forced to take English this quarter . . . Take 6 math classes to boost gpa." (Next to a photo of an Asian student.)
"Why are my marks below average? Asians." (Next to a photo of a white man.)
As you can see from the quotations above, the "University of Calgary Memes" page on Facebook is an online community filled to the brim with a certain type of hilarity. Some of it is racist, though most of it is not. But, let's leave that aside for just a moment. Let's begin instead with ignorance about how social media works.
The first meme was posted by "Bee King," the second by "Devon Blake" and the third by "Majid Theking." Now, I am not sure if those are real names, but I do know that Danny Pochapsky and Romeo Lehman are.
According to Facebook, Romeo Lehman is a student at the Haskayne School of Business at the U of C, and on Oct. 4, 2011, he added "President at the International Relations club" to his work profile. We can guess that he is a real person because Google tells us that he was a "Peer Mentor" for Ms. L. Bryce's Communications Studies 363 lecture in the winter 2010 semester. At the same time, Facebook tells us that he thought the "Why are my marks below average? Asians" meme was hilarious enough to share on his own wall on Feb. 9, 2012, shortly after it was posted on the U of C Memes page.
Danny Pochapsky is even more revealing. According to the June 28, 2011 edition of the Didsbury Review, Daniel Pochapsky was the 2011 Valedictorian at Didsbury High School who "took in the most medallions . . . for math, pure math, biology, chemistry and social studies." Google tells us that Pochapsky won a 2011 Mountain View Credit Union scholarship valued at $1,500, and Facebook tells us the he is a Schulich School of Engineering student who expects to graduate from the U of C in 2015 and who likes Taylor Swift, Archie Comics, Soul Plane, "drifting cars" and "shooting stuff."
He also thinks that the "Not sure if electrical engineering class . . . or Chang family reunion" meme posted by Bee King is "Brilliant." Or, so he said on Sunday Feb. 12, 2012 soon after the meme was posted.
Now, maybe Danny Pochapsky and Romeo Lehman (and all the others who "like" or approvingly comment on these memes) are not racist at all. Maybe Danny Pochapsky is engaged to a girl (or boy) from an Asian-Canadian family, maybe he loves Bruce Lee movies and listens to Nujabes records, and maybe he went door-to-door collecting donations for Tsunami victims in 2004.
Or, maybe not.
Someone who actually knows Pochapsky might be able to place his Facebook comments on the "Chang family" meme into a proper context and to weigh it against a history of words and actions, but no one (aside from possibly his 248 Facebook friends) actually knows Danny Pochapsky. So, we cannot tell if he's a jokester or a bigoted asshole. All we know is what the internet tells us, and neither Danny, Romeo, Bee King, Majid Theking, or Devon Blake come out looking very good.
A friend of mine happens to be an Asian-Canadian U of C graduate who has sat on a number of hiring boards in his day.
He put it like this: "It's refreshing that University of Calgary students are willing to display their racist and sexist views so openly, and to 'like' such views using their real names. Before, potential employers had to infer which University of Calgary graduates lacked the maturity or skills to thrive in the global context, but now they can just collect their names directly."