A bulletin board filled with lots of college memorabilia.
Photo illustration by Slate

Zoom Pranks on Professors, Wild PowerPoint Parties, and a Billion Memes

We asked students all around the country how they’re re-creating campus life from afar.

Since colleges and universities shut down their campuses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, students everywhere have been stuck at home, muddling through Zoom classes, missing their roommates and teammates and friends. So we asked students all around the country to document how they’re trying—academically, socially, and extracurricularly—to simulate campus life when they can’t be on campus at all.

Olivia Musoke, freshman, Spelman College

Olivia in Spelman gear, posing in front of a brick wall.
Olivia Musoke

At Spelman, there’s a week in April called “Founders Week”—there are events, alumni come back on campus, people wear all white, there’s a big party hosted by the Caribbean culture club. So this year, they had a virtual photo booth where students and alumni could send in photos using a special frame and then you upload the photo on their website. Most of our buildings on campus are made of bricks, so it’s standard to take “brick wall pictures.” To mimic that, I took my photo in front of a brick wall near my house.

The “Don’t Rush Challenge” blew up on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok as a way to simulate getting ready with your girlfriends during shelter in place. Some of my friends from my residence hall made this one. At school, we would sometimes get together and learn TikTok dances and invade each others’ dorm rooms to film them. One of my friends was recently like, let’s record a TikTok together on Zoom. For that one, someone actually made her virtual background her dorm room.

Now that we’re all at home, college DJs have been hosting parties on Instagram Live. This one is a Morehouse DJ named DJ Ricoveli, and most of the viewers are students from Morehouse and Spelman.

A screenshot of text messages.
Olivia Musoke

This is a group chat with my best friends from college. My friend Nadya was having a hard time because she couldn’t fly back home so she was staying with her grandparents in Georgia, while the rest of us were back in our childhood bedrooms. Also, all her classes are still meeting at every scheduled time. Meanwhile some of my teachers have only given me one assignment and we haven’t talked other than that. And my friend Gabby is a biology major and now she has tons of free time because so much of her work on campus happens in a lab.

At school, for all our friends’ birthdays, we stay together in someone’s dorm room till the clock strikes midnight. Then at midnight, we sing happy birthday and dance and eat cake and stuff. So this was a Zoom call we did at midnight for my friend’s birthday.

A still of an iPhone folder full of videos of Olivia dancing.
Olivia Musoke

Before I even got to college, I was excited to audition for Mahogany, Spelman’s dance team. Live auditions were scheduled to start a few days before we got notice that we had to move off-campus. They decided to make the whole process virtual. We did Zoom auditions for the dance team where everyone had to be dressed a certain way, with full performance makeup. You had to find a space with good lighting and enough space for you to move. I was scored well on certain days because I was in my living room with a lot of light. Other people were in places where it got dark earlier, or they didn’t have enough space and had to dance in a park outside or something. Eventually I was able to get into a studio that’s really close to my house. We’d meet on Zoom and do the dance in our separate little windows. There were delays so it looked crazy, but it was supposed to be synchronized. The different coaches would pin each person so they could watch us individually. This is the folder I made with all my audition videos. (I’m not gonna share the actual videos because I think some of the dance moves are secret.) About a week ago, the coaches had a small group of us meet on Zoom. They’d invited a bunch of Mahogany alumni. It turned out they had brought us there just to tell us we made the team. I was on mute, but I was screaming.

Jasper Rosenheim, senior, New York University

Two Zoom screengrabs, one of a girl cooking and another of a guy getting a haircut.
Jasper Rosenheim

We convinced my roommate Alex to let his sister shave his head. That’s me in the little box on the top left. We were chatting on Zoom and it was late, like 2 a.m., and we peer-pressured him. Shaving our heads at 2 a.m. is something we would’ve done if we were in our apartment in Brooklyn, too. Pretty normal behavior for us.

The other photo is when I tried to teach my girlfriend to cook. I think she would be OK with me characterizing her as someone who could burn water. I study food anthropology and cook professionally. So when my college friends and I are together, we usually default to me cooking. If we were at school, I’d be making food while everyone else watched TV. But in quarantine my girlfriend is really determined to learn. We screen-shared so we could all see the recipe.

An email from NYU.
Jasper Rosenheim

NYU emailed graduating seniors and said they’d send us caps and tassels and you could take a picture in it and they would Photoshop you onto NYU’s campus. My friends responded to this like, “Ha ha I am not going to do this, this is very embarrassing and lame.”

A snapchat of a falcon, and a meme that says "For sale: commencement gown, never worn."
Jasper Rosenheim

My best friend sent the falcon picture on Snapchat. He’s an ecology student at UMass–Amherst and was doing actual introductory fieldwork while he was in school. Now his homework is watching livestreams of birds. Meanwhile, for my NYU classes on Zoom, everyone is required to have their video cameras on, but people make up excuses. I am in that category. My internet is really bad at home so that’s the excuse I’ve been using. I’d say the first week, 100 percent of students had their cameras on, the second week we were at 80 percent, and now we’re at one or two people.

The other image is from the NYU meme page on Facebook, which has been going wild now that everyone’s in quarantine. Posting has been through the roof. Meme pages for schools are massively popular—they are often about midterms, or homework, or whatever. NYU’s has a lot of like, MetroCard-specific memes. Most of them are super esoteric unless you are under 22 so I tried to find one that was more accessible.

A crazy Zoom background with a picture of Jasper's face, fractured; an online poker table.
Jasper Rosenheim

At school, I was part of a poker club. Now I’ve merged poker groups with my brother’s friends and we all play in one big poker group online. It was a pretty natural transition. There’s a chat function, lot of shit talking.

The other picture is a virtual background I made as a joke. It’s really frightening. Virtual backgrounds are like a whole new form of communication now. People are doing such funny things. Making NYU’s library their background, subway cars so it looks like New York. Someone took a screenshot of their professor’s Zoom screen and cut their professor out of it so it looked like they were in their professor’s house. That’s one of my favorites.

Leora Weitzman, senior, George Washington University

A facebook post titled TedX zoom.
Leora Weitzman

My college friends and I saw online that this singer we like was going to be performing a concert in Club Penguin, or some slightly offbrand version of that virtual world. And my friend, who is quite creative, decided to make a whole night out of it. She invited seven of us. She was a part of GW’s TEDx organization and the event was canceled, which she was sad about, so that’s why the invitation is called TEDx Zoom.

A screengrab of a concert at Club Penguin.
Leora Weitzman

The servers ended up crashing so the Club Penguin concert had to be postponed. But here’s the stage before it crashed. I had never played Club Penguin before and had no idea how it worked so I just showed up.

A powerpoint screengrab that says "Why Portrait of a Lady Is the Best and Worst Form of Social Distancing."
Leora Weitzman

As part of the night, we decided to do a PowerPoint party where we each presented on a topic of our choosing using screen share. I presented on some famous haunted house called the Winchester House. This one is my friend Natalie’s. We were all laughing. Of course Natalie chose this topic. It’s her favorite movie.

A powerpoint slide that said "Laurie = sour cream and onion piffs"
Leora Weitzman

My other friend presented on “Timothée Chalamet as Trader Joe Snacks,” comparing roles Chalamet has played to different snacks. Laurie from Little Women was sour cream and onion corn puffs, as you can see. Elio from Call Me by Your Name was a gummy snack called Scandinavian Swimmers (“European and fruity ”). It was great.

Leora and her friends watching Trolls on zoom.
Leora Weitzman

My college friends and I love the Trolls movies. I don’t know why. We’d all seen the first one together at school. The second one came out recently and we watched it together on Zoom on the release date. We all paid for it, which is the worst part.

Miké Brown, junior, Michigan State University

A still of math-related scribbles from risk analysis class on zoom, and a separate snapchat of pancakes in front of a laptop.
Miké Brown

I posted “Zoom Vibes” on Snapchat the day we all got the email that classes were gonna be online, before we knew that we would be gone for the rest of the semester. I was like, you know what, I’m gonna make some pancakes and do my Zoom class from bed. I was like, heyyy I don’t have to attend classes, that’s less work on my part. I might as well live it up. We’ll all be back in less than a month. If I had known how long we were going to be away, that would’ve changed the tone.

I’m an engineering major and the other image is my structural analysis class on Zoom. When the professor asks if we are understanding what he’s saying, we say “yes” in the chat.

This was a Snapchat I sent during my risk analysis class, which is basically statistics. I was bored. I started with an oval, I didn’t know what I was gonna draw. And then I was like: It’s gonna be a pineapple. And then I was like: It’s gonna be a pineapple MAN.

Miké and his friends hanging out on zoom.
Miké Brown

I’m in an a cappella group on campus, all guys, and we are friends with an all-girl group. So we all decided to Zoom. That person in the empty chair went to the bathroom. I’m the dude with locks.

Some of my college friends and I were just on a Zoom chat ’cause we miss each other. I happened to have the Joker movie downloaded so I put that as my background and I was socking the Joker in the face just ‘cause it was funny.

Gabrielle Ducharme, sophomore, Arizona State University

ASU coach Herm Edwards on zoom.
Gabrielle Ducharme

The head football coach at ASU, Herm Edwards, did a Zoom meetup with a bunch of journalism students and gave us all advice. He was really helpful. He said, “What you are doing right now in quarantine with limited resources is what might actually set you apart when you are 27, 28 years old and you are trying to get that big job in the industry. Being in quarantine doesn’t mean you have to stop working. You can mess around and whittle this valuable time away or you can start investing in something you care about, like a personal project.” That inspired me.

I was supposed to go to the Olympics to report on the games. My school was going to send me along with 24 other student journalists, and I’ve been really disappointed. But in part because of what Coach Edwards told us, I decided to take advantage of quarantine and start a video series instead. Here’s one episode where I interviewed basketball player Taya Hanson.

A group chat with Gabrielle and her friends.
Gabrielle Ducharme

I have a group chat with nine of my best friends from school. One of our friends started editing clips of all of us together into one massive video. While she was editing, she sent us a screenshot just titled “sophomore year.” It really struck a chord with me at that moment because I’d started to feel really down. It was starting to hit me: I’m not going back to school. I’m not gonna be able to see them.

This was the finished video, which my friend Rachel Stapholz made. I loved it so much. So many little random moments. There’s one clip in here where one of my friends barged into our room with tissues sticking out of her nose, I think she had a bloody nose or something really lame. So we had a video of that. Such a college dorm thing, where all your friends are living down the hall and you get no sleep. I miss it all right now. I’m not even gonna lie.