NYU Meme Page Bans Some International Student Memes, Citing Stereotyping

NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens will more strictly monitor content having to do with international students.


The self-dubbed ‘modmin’ team manages NYUMSFBT, approving posts and moderating comments. (Illustration by Jinny Hwang)

Matthew Fischetti, Contributing Writer

Memes that use the term “international students” will be more heavily monitored on NYU students’ go-to meme page to avoid thinly-veiled racism against East Asians, according to a moderator’s post on Oct. 29.

“In the future, we will be taking far stricter measures on controlling what memes are posted that relate to international students,” said CAS senior Iffat Nur, one of seven moderators of NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens. “[I]t’s clear that we have played a significant role in presenting an alienating and ultimately hurtful image of how (Asian) international students are perceived and ought to be perceived in NYU.”

Moderators of the page, which has over 16,000 members, partially attributed the decision to a WSN op-ed on the topic. While they had discussions about the implications of the international student memes this August and September, it wasn’t until the op-ed that they felt they needed to directly change policy, according to Nur and Stern junior Jinny Hwang, another moderator.

The moderators of NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens addressed WSN’s article in a Facebook announcement on Tuesday. (Via Facebook)

Hwang said the meme page looks for content that “isn’t excessively problematic, is actually funny, and somehow relates to NYU,” and that if a meme is more controversial, a majority consensus among moderators must be reached before it’s posted.

Student members of the page had differing reactions to the decision — while some voiced appreciation for what they saw as a step toward greater inclusivity, others said it was an unnecessary step towards political correctness.

CAS first-year Damien Xu, an international student from China, appreciated the move. While he found some of the memes funny, Xu said that they portray false stereotypes and tropes, like that all international students wear expensive clothes or smoke cigarettes.

“The type of people that the memes describe are only a small portion of the international student body,” Xu said. “Using that type of stereotype is bad and [the meme page is] willing to recognize that and change that and help the community know more about how international students are and I really appreciate what they have done.”

CAS sophomore Anish Fonseka disagreed.

“Regardless of whether the narrative a meme perpetuates is unhealthy, unless it contains extreme violence or pornography it shouldn’t be censored,” Fonseka, an international student from Sri Lanka, said.

Fonseka said members of the page should be able to critique or criticize posts rather than them being censored by admins. In a comment on Nur’s statement, Foneseka said the decision was another example of how “a media platform gives into pseudo-academic ramblings about identity politics.”

Other negative responses interpreted the statement as an outright banning of the term “international students” from the page. Moderators clarified to WSN that term wasn’t being banned, only uses of it that single out stereotypes about Asian students. 

“We’re not saying that we don’t want memes from international students or regarding international students,” Nur said. “What we want is for international students to relay their experience without it seeming like we’re trying to other them.”

Disclaimer: WSN Opinion Editor Abby Hofstetter is an admin of NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens.

Email Matthew Fischetti at [email protected]