Meme is created to mock female student’s acceptance into Caltech
Students post meme in private Facebook group to target another student
Editor’s Note: For clarification, senior Avik Jain did not create the meme. Before Mitra reached out to him, Jain had already asked the student who made the meme to take down the post. Jain was also not a member of the boys’ group chat in which the apology to senior Ankita Mitra was mocked. Our story has been updated to reflect these clarifications.
It was Dec. 12 when she received the email regarding her acceptance into The California Institute of Technology, a prestigious college that senior Ankita Mitra had dreamed of attending for years.
Only two days later, on Dec. 14, Mitra was walking home from school when her friend opened Facebook and showed her a post. It was mocking her acceptance into Caltech compared to senior Avik Jain, who got rejected. For purposes of maintaining his anonymity, we will refer to the student who showed her the meme as Alfred.
“I showed [Mitra] the meme [made about her]. I was just offended by the content [of] it,” Alfred said. “Why did they not think that somebody would get offended by what this was saying? They weren’t happy with [Mitra], which in my opinion didn’t make sense because it’s the affirmative action policy at Caltech that they should’ve been mad at.”
The post was made in the former Junior Prom tuxedo Facebook group, now called “Real MVHS 2018.” According to Jain, this group was a place where students could post memes to make fun of each other.
“On the first day [the group] was made, people started posting pictures of their friend and stuff... No guys [really cared] if they [had] the same tux as other people,” Jain said. “It’s just memes that are supposed to be making fun of other people who are in the group. This was one of those cases where [the meme] was mainly directed at me, I think, but then obviously someone else was involved in it. That’s why it was obviously offensive.”
On Dec. 13, a student posted a meme comparing Jain’s achievements, listing out his 4.0 GPA, perfect ACT score and other accomplishments, along with the fact that he is a male. There was a picture of the artist Drake to the left of the list of his achievements. According to Jain, the meme insinuated that Caltech rejected him despite his accomplishments.
On the bottom right corner of the meme was a list of Mitra’s “achievements”: “indian girl,” “B in physics 1” and a screenshot of the female option selected on the gender box on the common app. There was a picture of Drake smiling to the left of the list of her “accomplishments,” implying that Caltech accepted her because of these factors.
“Initially I thought, they are just expressing the fact that they are against affirmative action, which, I mean is allowed. It is a decent conversation to have,” Mitra said. “But they were targeting not only me, [but also] another girl who got into Carnegie Mellon for computer science… in a separate post and just the fact that all [of this was] going on, and they were not apologetic at all was kinda upsetting.”
In the comment section of the post, another male student commented saying he deserved credit for the meme because he sat at Mitra’s table and told everyone that she got a B in AP Physics 1. The male student referred to Mitra as “WiSTEM” because of her involvement in STEM as a female, referencing the MVHS “Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” club.
“The reason I was really shocked by that [was] because [the person who made that comment] was someone I thought was a friend of mine,” Mitra said. “He used to joke about how ... robotics preferring women is a terrible thing, ... but I didn’t know that these emotions ran so deep that he would actually tell people about this and make memes about it.”
According to Jain, Mitra contacted him, under the impression that he created and posted the meme. Before she had messaged him, Jain had already requested that the meme be taken down. She informed him that she felt that the meme was reducing her to her gender. He responded by clarifying that he did not create or post the meme and also that he had worked with her before and did not intend to reduce her to her gender. Mitra then blocked him on Facebook Messenger.
“I wouldn’t try to apologize to her after [she blocked me], like if she wants to talk to me, she can do that, but she decided to cut off contact so whatever, not my problem anymore,” Jain said.
After discovering that Jain did not create or post the meme, Mitra contacted the person who commented on the post, telling him that his comment was disrespectful. That person responded with a series of messages in which he apologized profusely. However, she soon found out that her message was also being mocked in the boys’ group chat over text. This group chat was separate from the Facebook group in which the meme was posted.
“It turns out by [the] time... I sent them [the message] ... it was being circulated and that was being mocked,” Mitra said. “People were saying things — that the guy that apologized to me was trying to suck up so that I wouldn’t take action.”
Jain and Alfred were both not a part of the group chat in which the commenter’s apology was being mocked. However, Alfred was the first student to show Mitra the meme.
“I could feel this hatred towards this person [who posted the meme] rather than the policy ... They made a meme that specifically targeted, or listed information about [Mitra] and then they made comments about her that would be considered cyberbullying in some ways,” Alfred said. “The moment I told her, she went and attacked the person who called her WiSTEM and then they kicked me out of the group.”
Jain agrees that it was unfair to include her in the meme because Mitra was not in the group and could not therefore consent to what was being posted about her. However, he feels that the meme was not reducing Mitra to her gender, rather attacking the Caltech affirmative action policy
“I think all memes are reductionists in nature because… it’s going to try to highlight the flaws in something ... A meme has to be a reductionist in order to get any sort of message across,” Jain said. “If you want to analyze it, [the meme is] saying that you can get into Caltech with worse qualifications if you have a certain gender- That’s basically what the implication of the meme was. It doesn’t reduce any single person to their gender. That’s sort of a device that’s being used but I think what the message is from it is that if you have some sort of lower qualifications, that could be remedied by gender. I don’t know if it’s explicitly true or not but it’s something that a lot of people believe.”
Even though she feels as though disclosing her personal information in a meme was inappropriate, Mitra is open to discussion about affirmative action, as it may be beneficial to express conflicting emotions.
“I just [want to] point out that I was totally fine with guys texting each other about this kind of stuff,” Mitra said. “It’s totally fine to be irritated or angered about this sort of thing, but just allowing open conversation would, I think, be really helpful.”
However, Jain believes that in situations like this, people will have these kinds of open conversations about affirmative action in a separate space. To him, the Facebook group is simply a place to make jokes with his friends.
“A lot of guys agree that we shouldn’t be discriminated against because of our gender. Then if you have a group of all those guys, instead of having a logical discussion about what they’re going to do, maybe they’ll make fun of opposing viewpoints,” Jain said. “And that happens everywhere. Everyone makes fun of the people who disagree with them. And what this meme is doing is making fun of Caltech.”
Alfred defends affirmative action because he strongly believes that there is inequality between certain groups of people and that that should be accommodated for through policies like affirmative action. But similar to Mitra, he is open to having these conversations.
“They think that men are actually getting discriminated against in terms of affirmative action policies because men have it so hard in the world, don’t they?” Alfred said. “If ... you feel like you’re being discriminated against that’s okay… Affirmative action is discrimination, but ... you [have] to think about what purpose the discrimination is serving.”
Jain believes that the intention of affirmative action may serve a moral purpose, but the execution is lacking, referring to organizations that promote women in the tech industry, such as Girls Who Code. He proposes that it may create a more negative viewpoint because some may think they’re less qualified because of said organizations.
“It shifts from being, ‘because you’re a female you’re less qualified,’ [to], ‘because you’re a female, you get a lower bar to get into here in the first place, and that’s why I might not assume you have the same qualifications as your male counterparts,’” Jain said. “And obviously you don’t want a workplace where people believe that because that’s sexist… and that wouldn’t be true if everyone had equal qualifications.”
Because of the explicit promotion of women in STEM, Jain has conflicting feelings about affirmative action; however, Mitra and Alfred feel differently, and welcome people who have the same viewpoints as Jain in discussing their opinions.
“If you don’t like a policy, sure, voice your opinion on it, but don’t go attack a single person because of the policy and don’t conflate your failure in life with the success of others,” Alfred said.
Senior Avik Jain and senior Ankita Mitra responded to this article with a letter to the editor. Click this link to read more: http://www.elestoque.org/2018/01/27/letter-to-editors/letter-editors-2/
Correction 1/20/18 11:00 p.m. Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of the story that appeared on Jan. 20 incorrectly stated that senior Ankita Mitra contacted the student who created the meme, instead of the student who commented on the post. It also incorrectly stated that a male student commented “I deserve credit for this because I’m the one who told all of you that [WiSTEM] got a B in Physics 1 in my table group.” The student posted a different comment, which has since been removed along with the meme. An image that was used to reflect the student’s comment has been removed from the article.
Correction 1/23/18 3:09 p.m. A previous version of the story that appeared on Jan. 20 incorrectly stated that the anonymous senior source, referred to as “Alfred,” was a part of a group chat in which he defended senior Ankita Mitra.
Additional Reporting by Anjini Venugopal.