NJIT hoists a number of taglines prominently such as: “Top 1% Nationally for Return On Investment,” “Number 1 Nationally for Student Upward Economic Mobility,” and “R1 Research Institution.” A single Google search of NJIT’s Admissions Department reveals that we are unashamed to take pride in what makes our university great—the ability to prepare students to thrive professionally in high-tech careers.
But, all of these accolades reflect student success aftergraduation, and it can seem to some that this may come to a detriment to the on-campus culture. It is undoubtedly true that career development and quality education are what students pay for and should be the chief concerns for educational institutions, and NJIT has made great steps in campus improvement such as the Wellness and Events Center and the Campus Green.
However, NJIT’s focus on the post-graduate experience alongside the small campus size and the fact that it is a 76% commuter school means that obtaining the full college experience is the exception, not the rule. As NJIT finally emerges from its growing pains, our unique college experience is instead highlighted in a vibrant online culture that provides a space for the student body to unite.
As an institution overrepresented by tech-savvy Computer Science and Engineering majors, it is no surprise that the most active student medium of expression can be found online. Instagram accounts, Reddit threads and specialized group chats are saturated with a new brand of humor: NJIT-related memes, which include humorous pictures or videos satirizing shared experiences unique to being a student at our university.
The diligent moderators of the Reddit forum r/NJTech affirm that memes play an important part in the online gathering ground for some 3,200 Highlanders. On r/NJTech, students can find discussions related to course registration advice, new developments on campus and of course, the latest memes.
Jacob Fuhr, a subreddit moderator and third-year Information Technology student, proudly proclaims, “I still have the top post on the subreddit!” He refers to a screenshot of a 116-credit single-semester plan on NJIT’s Schedule Builder he posted a year ago, with the tongue-in-cheek caption, “491 upvotes and I’ll register for this schedule.” This particular registration meme is tame, as students are prone to express more strongly their frustrations with curriculum planning.
But, students also find special ways to celebrate their love for the campus where they invest so much of their time, as with the Redditor u/UltimateDeath91 who built an intricate 1:1 replica of Cypress and Redwood Halls in Minecraft, complete with a bed and chest in each dorm room.
“The Reddit community is a very curious community. They want to know what’s going on, and they’re willing to look for answers, because they care a lot about this place,” said Evan Markowitz, a junior Computer Science major and another r/NJTech moderator. “And it’s nice to see that people care, that we’re not all jaded.”
Another cultural campus forum is Overheard at NJIT (@overheardnjit on Instagram), which was started by five students who “would overhear the craziest stuff in GDS or walking through campus, and would send them to each other to brighten each others’ days,” inspiring them to begin an “Overheard” account at NJIT. Inviting students to submit hilarious one-liners they’ve heard around campus, Overheard at NJIT aims to “select submissions that are wacky, relatable and reflective of NJIT’s nerdy culture.” The account offers a direct look into some of the conversations had at NJIT over a range of subjects: one-liners pulled from professors; quotes regarding party culture and tough classes; and of course, the wildly popular sexual or lewd overheards.
An easy target for NJIT-related memes is NJIT’s one constant: campus construction. Perhaps the first meme-specific account of its kind, @cones_of_njit on Instagram reposts humorous pictures and captions of cones on campus sent in by NJIT’s students. The owner of the account recognized a need “for a platform for all the pictures people share” of cones appearing in random spots around campus.
Cones of NJIT has grown substantially in popularity, with the owner remarking that “NJIT is an urban campus constantly plagued with construction and traffic. This account was able to take something that was an eyesore to the campus and turn it into a unique and funny cultural phenomenon. When students see cones now, they don’t get as annoyed and it instead reminds them of one of NJIT’s little quirks.” In this manner, meme culture has blurred the line between the real and digital worlds at NJIT and allowed students to breathe new life into the campus.
Indeed, the founder of Cones of NJIT notes that the account “started out as just cones in strange places, but then students started posing with them and got increasingly creative with the pictures they sent to the account.”
Meme culture has been essential to building a stronger sense of community and culture at NJIT. They act as catalysts for discussion, vents for frustrations and opportunities to bond over unique Highlander experiences. Even more exciting is the emergence of this new perspective as NJIT finishes up major construction projects. As we continue to build up elements more traditional to the college experience, NJIT’s meme culture will continue to evolve just as NJIT evolves. What will keep our community united will be our commitment to finding delight in the day-to-day life of a college student.