The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Editorial: Yik Yak is symptomatic of campus culture

In light of the recent anonymous attacks against individuals and groups on the social media platform Yik Yak, The Scarlet & Black would like to add our voice in deploring those who posted racist comments directed towards Concerned Black Students, as well as those who posted retaliatory comments against sexual misconduct survivors and allies. However, we also want to stress to the Grinnell community that these Yik Yak comments are not an anomaly, but rather symptomatic of prejudices held by members of the campus at large. As such, although condemning Yik Yak and the particular individuals who are drawn to its anonymous platform is necessary, it is not sufficient to meet the need of interrogating racism and rape culture on campus.

Yik Yak, a mobile app that allows users to post anonymous comments, has become a platform on which many campus-wide discussions take place. On Sunday, Feb. 22, racist posts on Yik Yak that attacked both student groups and individuals led to a campus-wide email in which President Kington denounced these commentators. On March 3, after the publication of a Huffington Post article highlighting the College’s mishandling of sexual misconduct cases, survivors of these cases and their alleged assailants were named, which violates federal privacy law and creates an incredibly dangerous environment for survivors and allies. These intimidating and threatening posts threaten the basis of our self-governing community and create an environment of distrust—the anonymous aggressors could be anyone.

Members of the Grinnell community have experienced pervasive hate-speech, harassment and racially motivated aggression on a multitude of occasions. On October 1, 2014, a pickup truck with a Confederate flag in its rear window was seen driving around campus and the individuals in the car yelled racial slurs at students. In 2010, racial slurs were written over an SGA candidate’s posters. These are reported events—but people of color on this campus experience countless microaggressions every day that never are reported. The letter to the editor by 56 alumni speaks to precisely this problem. Additionally, survivors are discredited in public forums, being called ‘crazy’ and ‘angry,’ and have to navigate feelings of anxiety over their safety on a campus where no-contact cannot be enforced. 

The Grinnell community needs to take note of the pervasiveness of these incidents. While Yik Yak may have brought certain issues to light, if we stop the conversation there we foreclose the possibility of real self-investigation.

It is imperative that the administration and SGA reach out to students in a way that transcends campus-wide emails. Student groups like One Grinnell have made efforts to unify the student body by hosting rallies in opposition to the racist incidents committed by some community members. Additionally, we would like to commend the efforts of student groups like CBS and Dissenting Voices for instigating dialogue that directly addresses the widespread nature of these issues. We encourage all students to meet with these groups, and others, and attempt to foster a community of respect and common goals.

However, it is important to note that while such groups have reached out, it is the College’s responsibility to act collectively to create more visible changes and spaces for students to decompress and work through incidents like this. While existing spaces like the Office of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership allow students to meet and engage in meaningful dialogue, some of our staff believe they could do better in advertising, engaging with and reaching out to students of color. But this is not enough. It is time to create other spaces where students, faculty and staff can voice their opinions in an accountable way. We look to SGA and the Grinnell administration to create safe environments where conversations about the derogatory and divisive parts of our campus climate can take place. One example is to create a women’s center on campus.

We are happy to see recent statements from President Kington and SGA that condemn racist speech on Yik Yak, but we have yet to receive an email condemning the explicitly retaliatory, intimidating and illegal posts that target survivors and allies. This is a moment for the administration—and the campus at large—to recognize common struggles and think and act in an intersectional way.

We challenge SGA and the administration to create spaces where dialogue specifically confronting the heinous thoughts of some members of our campus community can be raised. We would like to see the administration make clear to the community that hate speech, harassment and intimidation directed to any student will not be tolerated, and that there are ramifications to such violations. Finally, we implore faculty to create safe classroom environments where these issues can be discussed.

The S&B encourages students interested in adding their voices to this conversation by emailing letters to the editor to [newspapr].

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    AlumniMar 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Welcome to the internet. Given an anonymous platform, this stuff is going to happen. It’ll happen again. Next time, it could reflect genuine sentiment or could be juvenile trolls who just want a reaction. If every time someone says something offensive online there’s a crisis, you’ll be in permanent crisis. Downvote and move on or stop using YikYak until they change something. Related: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/technology/popular-yik-yak-app-confers-anonymity-and-delivers-abuse.html

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