This article contains profanity and references to suicide, sexual assault, sexism, and Islamophobia.
UPDATE: Pomona College's investigative team said Monday that “the posts to the meme group rise to the level of a bias-related incident,” and that further investigation would determine any code or policy violations.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, Pomona College’s Incident Response Team launched an investigation into a secret Facebook meme group first reported on by the Claremont Independent the day before. Here’s what we know:
The group is named “U PC BREAUX” – read “You Politically Correct, Bro?” – and has several hundred members, many of whom are current or former students at the Claremont Colleges.
The group was started at least in part by a Pomona College student no later than December 2016, according to the Independent.
The group is “secret,” which means only invited members can see that the group exists or see what’s posted in it.
Posts in the group – mostly memes – are openly racist, sexist, transphobic, Islamophobic, and otherwise blatantly offensive in nature.
A large number of the most offensive memes were posted by a small group of students, primarily Pomona sophomores.
The IRT, which is investigating the group, was “established… to address issues relating to hate crimes and bias-related incidents,” according to the Pomona Student Handbook. M. Ricardo Townes, associate dean of student mentoring and leadership, is leading the IRT.
Here are three examples:
One post made light of teenage suicide and mental illness.
Discussion in the comments section went as follows:
Commenter A: “I don’t get it… is it funny because a ‘weird’ kid kills himself (how is that funny…?) and another kid – who's mentally disabled due to no fault of their own… – starts abusing the dead body?
Commenter B: “Yeah.”
The student who posted the meme added, “There's a dissonance between the tone of the text and the tone of the image, and humor is a way of processing that dissonance.”
Another post showed the “Minesweeper” interface overlaid on a photograph of praying Muslims.
“Too true,” wrote one commenter.
Another, a screenshot posted from 4chan, called feminists “a bunch of talking cunts.”
How the Claremont Independent handled the story
On Wednesday, the Independent brought the group into the public eye with an opinion article headlined “The Dark Underbelly of Claremont’s Meme Culture,” written by Ross Steinberg PO ‘18, the Independent’s managing editor at the time. (Disclosure: Steinberg has since been hired as a contributing writer for TSL.)
The Independent then posted the article to their Facebook page, writing “Managing Editor Ross Steinberg infiltrated an anti-PC secret meme page with hundreds of student members.”
Later that night, Steinberg revealed the identity of the Pomona student who founded the group in a public Facebook comment.
Commenters on the Independent’s website had already turned against Steinberg, calling him a loser, using homophobic slurs, and telling him to kill himself.
On Thursday, alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos shared the article on his official Facebook page. “Apparently George Orwell wasn't wrong when he wrote 1984 – he was just 33 years too early,” Yiannopoulos wrote about Pomona’s decision to launch an investigation.
Commenters on Yiannopoulos’s post also attacked Steinberg, calling him a “whiny little bitch” and “the real Nazi.”
On Friday morning, the rest of the Independent’s editorial board fired Steinberg and promoted opinion editor Megan Keller CM ‘18 to managing editor to replace him.
Steinberg wrote on Facebook that he was fired because members of the editorial board were “deeply unhappy with the manner in which the piece” was reported. The Independent’s editor-in-chief, Matthew Reade PO ‘18, declined to comment.
The Independent also added a disclaimer to the top of the article: “The opinions in this article reflect the author’s only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Independent’s editorial board.” At the time the article was published, the author was a member of the Independent’s editorial board. The update did not include a timestamp.
The Independent then deleted its original Facebook post. For a time, it was still visible in the Facebook sidebar on its website, which had undergone design changes since the article was posted.
Marc Rod contributed reporting.
This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.
For a more comprehensive look at the people behind the group and the possible outcomes of Pomona’s investigation, keep an eye out for our upcoming feature story.