From Isolation to Instagram
How COVID helped spawn a social media phenomenon
In the summer of 2020, first-year students found out that they’d be stuck at home—or wherever they were in the pandemic-stricken world—for the rest of the year. But that didn’t stop one student from connecting with the Brown community. On July 13, 2020, Chas Steinbrugge ’24 uploaded his first post to @brown2024memes, which would later become @brownumemes—an Instagram account that has since accrued more than 8,300 followers.
“It was a way to sort of bring the class together online before we could be [together] in person, and, you know, cope with memes while we were apart back in our hometowns at a time when most people were going to school,” says Steinbrugge.
Steinbrugge’s campus commentary runs the gamut. From parodying Tucker Carlson’s snide comments about Brown, to comically lamenting course registration issues, to sharing reports such as “BREAKING NEWS: A SKUNK ENTERED THE RATTY TODAY,” @brownumemes has become a go-to for students—and some of their parents, too.
Eden Allen ’24, who has followed @brownumemes since fall 2020, appreciates the account’s down-to-earth humor. “It keeps me up-to-date on different things to be excited about,” she says, and “makes it seem like my struggles as a Brown student are relatable and felt across campus.” During the pandemic, the page kept “some hope alive that we’d eventually be able to get to know each other and like, we’re kind of all in this together.”
Steinbrugge doesn’t confine himself to lighthearted issues—he’s not afraid to serve his quasi-reported content with a generous dash of campus policy criticism. In September, when Brown instated temporary COVID-19 restrictions that prohibited students from eating inside dining halls, Steinbrugge wasted no time in communicating the policy’s effects. Uploading footage of massive dumpsters filled with takeout boxes outside the Ratty, he wrote: “Do other Ivy League schools create so much waste that they need dumpsters in front of the dining halls?” He captioned another post: “Our campus is littered with takeout boxes because we don’t have the infrastructure to throw them all away!!”
The temporary COVID-19 restrictions propelled @brownumemes to exponential growth, gaining more than 1,300 followers in a brief surge that spawned a Brown Daily Herald story. Glenn Kessler ’81 found out about the page when his daughter, Mara Kessler ’23.5, sent him photos of the trash overflow.
“Sometimes it’s sophomoric,” Kessler says, smiling—it makes him feel like he is on campus again.