By Tom Darcy
Executive members of Student Government Association (S.G.A.) responded to racist posts on the phone app “Yik Yak” and urged students be more civil towards each other.
Yik Yak is an anonymous, location-based app that launched in 2013. Users of this app can post “yaks” to a feed that can only be seen by other users within a 10-mile radius from where the original yak was posted.
“It has come to our attention that racist, bigoted, and insensitive remarks made on the anonymous social media platform YikYak have eroded the sense of community here at Stonehill,” the email said. “Such comments have made students feel alienated and unwelcome in our campus, and as members of Student Government we refuse to accept such behavior, regardless of anonymity or the vehicle by which such offensive statements are made.”
Executive board members altered to the app’s existence over the summer, and wondered what impact it would have at Stonehill, Santos said.
“When we had our E-Board meeting over the summer, one of our members mentioned this app that was like an anonymous Twitter and wondered if it would be a big thing at Stonehill,” Executive President Jeff Santos said. “In the fall it became a big thing and I downloaded it. It is interesting because some of the things that people post are very funny, but then there are other things that, because it is anonymous, you cannot tie posts to people like you could with Facebook, and that can be frustrating.”
Santos and other board members said a Stonehill professor raised concerns to the Office of Intercultural Affairs about the app.
“A professor contacted someone in Intercultural affairs and asked if they were aware of the app, and then mentioned a Yak that a student had read to her,” Santos said.
The Yak cited by the professor was racist and is not in line with the code of conduct students are held to at the College, Santos said.
“The professor said a Yak she saw the other day read, ‘Stonehill should stay white. There are too many black people at Stonehill,’” Santos said. “There was another one that just said, ‘White supremacy!’ There were other racist, white supremacy Yaks on there as well.”
When administrators were told of these Yaks, they asked Santos if he had seen those Yaks.
“The administrators asked me if I had seen anything like this, which I had not, but I had seen other posts that were very suspicious and borderline racists. Obviously these posts are very inappropriate,” Santos said. “We as an E-Board felt we needed to say something and we could not just let this slide by.”
Colleges and high schools around the countries have banned students from downloading and using Yik Yak while using the school’s wireless internet. Despite the concern over the app, Santos said banning Yik Yak is not an option for the school at this time. Santos acknowledged that some students were concerned by their email.
“I know a lot of students were frustrated with the email because they thought it was our way of saying we were going to ban Yik Yak. There have been some schools that do not allow students to use the app on the wireless network, but that is not even a discussion that has been brought up,” Santos said.
“People felt like we were trying to censor their free speech, but what we were really saying was that we should be good human beings and remember we are a community that cares about standing up to this kind of thing.”
The anonymity of Yik Yak can create barriers to addressing students posting harmful language, but the school does provide ways to combat this type of behavior in everyday life.
“We have the bystander training, the ‘I am not a passive bystander’ campaign and programs for sexual violence. This is just another thing that we have to tackle on this campus and say as an E-Board what is expected of the student body. We had to share that voice that this is not appropriate,” Santos said.
Santos said he wants to take a personal stand against what he calls the negative Yik Yak culture.
“Once I leave office, I know it is something that my successor is going to have to watch. It is anonymous, but it still reflects poorly on our school and we do not want students to think that that kind of language and behavior is tolerated at this school,” Santos said.
If a student sees something they consider inappropriate they should continue to bring it to the administration and the S.G.A.’s attention, Santos said.
“If a student sees something they should take a screen shot of it and send it to an administrator or to us. We want to be aware of what is going on and continue to be a school that does not try and sweep things under the rug,” Santos said. Santos also said that there are features of Yik Yak that allow students to respond to posts that are questionable.
“The one good quality about Yik Yak is that if a comment gets five down votes, it disappears off the newsfeed. I would hope that students would comment and say something is inappropriate, but I hope that others students would think to down it to take it off the feed as well,” Santos said.