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The Black Sheep in the room

| Monday, September 16, 2019

Forget football Saturdays and Catholic guilt — the true Notre Dame experience has been right at our fingertips all this time. The Black Sheep Notre Dame’s social media team, unaffiliated with but absolutely representative of the Notre Dame student body, successfully sums up life on campus with the help of some hot takes and relatable content. However, while their depictions of student life may be the Notre Dame experience for some, is it truly the Notre Dame experience that we wish to broadcast to those outside of the Notre Dame bubble? 

For those unfamiliar with the subject in question, Black Sheep is “the nation’s fastest growing college media and marketing company,” made up of dozens of editorial branches that are led and localized in various campus settings across the country. The company recognizes and takes full advantage of the close-quarters connectivity present across individual college campuses — each branch of their social media team draws students in with a form of humor that is personalized to their student body’s shared identity and social scene. The Notre Dame branch of Black Sheep is no different, sharing content that only Notre Dame students could understand — posts by Domers, for Domers! Posts where you can tag your best friend Katie from Chicago and joke about how that was totally you at Zahm last night! 

But these posts might just be relatable for all the wrong reasons. When Black Sheep’s social media managers aren’t cracking jokes about the South Bend permacloud or Notre Dame football, their social media presence boils down to one-liners about two primary subjects — skipping class and drinking en masse. Many posts feed off of the universal urges of unproductivity common amongst college students: “One thing I’ve learned over the past few days while preparing for finals is how conducive lofted beds are for hiding in your room and binge watching Netflix.” 

The proverbial “R.I.P. my GPA” jokes also make frequent appearances, revealing a worrisome chain of events that these accounts only seem to catalyze. The Black Sheep allows students to find comfort and relatability in academic irresponsibility, and then — once these problematic attitudes yield their respective results — also provides a platform for students to bond over their poor performance. Misery does love company, but the company that these accounts provide may very well spiral into a dangerous sort of academic complacency. 

Other posts attempt to normalize and make humor out of inappropriate alcohol consumption, like one tweet reading, “Oops I opened a box of wine instead of my textbooks.” These tweets may seem lighthearted at first — what’s so bad about finding humor in shared bad decisions? The incessant repetition of these bad decisions, however, is where toxic behavior finds its source, and the Black Sheep’s social media team seems to find endless humor in the act of messing up, regretting it and repeating everything a few days later. 

These jokes function similarly to the aforementioned promotions of procrastination — Black Sheep eases your guilt about closing a bar down when you should be studying, and the next morning — once these problematic behaviors yield their results — Black Sheep is there again to add some humor to your hangover as you stumble to your exam, convincing you that this sort of behavior is acceptable because their meme about it got three retweets. This capitalization of mob mentality in order to normalize self-destructive behavior — intentional or not — is dangerous and blatantly manipulative. 

That being said, I absolutely acknowledge that these accounts’ posts are not the core cause of these behaviors — the existence of these problematic mentalities is a product of a much larger and complicated culture — and no one follows the Black Sheep’s social media accounts for the sole purpose of calibrating their moral compass. Still, I can’t help but imagine a fictional student who practices everything that these accounts preach: “Hi, I’m the physical manifestation of the Notre Dame Black Sheep Twitter account! I have a 1.2 GPA and no liver!” For the off-campus Notre Dame fanatics that learn everything they know about the University through social media — parents, prospective students, your youth pastor from back home — this fictitious figure might just become their idea of the stereotypical Notre Dame student.

My goal here is not to condemn those who engage in these behaviors, those who enjoy the Black Sheep’s tweets or even the Black Sheep itself — rather, I suggest that we reconsider the ways in which we frame our public image as a University, and that we rethink our rhetoric when it comes to joking about academic irresponsibility and other self-destructive behaviors. Many students will continue in their behaviors regardless of what their campuses’ accounts are tweeting about, but we must understand that whether these social media outlets are officially affiliated or not, their jokes travel far beyond the universities they intend to humor. Upon reaching this understanding, perhaps we could begin chipping away at these toxic mentalities that seem to plague college campuses across the country. But before we tackle these far-reaching issues, we must first address the ways in which our society belittles the issues’ symptoms — portraying and promoting bad decisions under the guise of humor, utilizing mob mentality to normalize adverse behavior, popularizing platforms that reinforce said mob mentality. 

I will continue to follow the Notre Dame Black Sheep social media accounts — I’ll admit that many of their posts are undeniably hilarious. I just hope that in the future, I’ll see less tweets about inebriation and irresponsibility and more like this: “Just walked by a hot priest????” 

Now that is a Notre Dame experience I can get behind. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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