The other day, I squeezed into an elevator with Dean Chris Mulvihill and five other students. The dean pulled out his phone and asked us, “Seen anything good on Yik Yak lately?”
Like me, the other five students were surprised and confused. As strange as the encounter was, it made me think — students aren’t the only ones reading Yik Yak.
Dean Mulvihill is reading our yaks.
Other deans are reading them, too. The whole administration is reading them, trying to get a gist of what student life is like. Everything posted on Yik Yak is perceived as a representation of who we are here at Lehigh.
So who are we, according to Yik Yak?
Lehigh is love for the crepe lady. It’s bonding over the stress of finals and 4 o’clocks. Lehigh is the occasional cute squirrel picture and jokes about horse cops. It’s easy to see the sense of community we have at Lehigh when you read these yaks, but that is only half of the picture.
The other half is defamatory comments made toward Greek houses, rumors spread about individuals and insults thrown at racial groups. It is shocking how abundant these types of yaks are, but what is even more shocking is the vast quantity of people who agree with and encourage them.
Too often I see misogynistic, homophobic, racist or hateful yaks with over 100 upvotes. It makes me question if the culture at Lehigh has always been this hateful or if Yik Yak is shaping it to be this way. Whatever the true culprit is, there is one thing that can’t be denied: Those who are anonymously posting these negative yaks are not facing any consequences, and this is a problem on every campus.
Last year at Woodward Academy, student Elizabeth Long was attacked on Yik Yak when she came back to school after a suicide attempt. One yak read, “Elizabeth Long needs to stop bitching about how she almost killed herself and go ahead and do it.”
This statement not only caused Long to suffer severe emotional damage, but also made her feel unsafe at school. Long was never issued an apology because the identity of the student who posted the yak was never uncovered.
At the University of Missouri, several harmful yaks were aimed toward African American students after the controversial resignation of President Tim Wolfe. Some of these yaks included threats to shoot or stab black students. These yaks instilled fear in students and lead many of them to evacuate the campus.
Fortunately, Lehigh’s yaks are not threatening to the extent that students are afraid to be on campus.
However, Yik Yak does pose a threat to campus unity.
I find that every day there is something negative or untrue posted about individual Greek houses. There are also comments made that pit chapters — as well as non-Greek students and Greek students — against each other. Since there are so many students involved in Greek life on Lehigh’s campus, it is easy for these types of comments to destroy the relationships we have with each other.
So how can we fix this?
Members of the Panhellenic Council think that Yik Yak should be deleted from everyone’s phones. Some students argue that Yik Yak should be banned entirely from Lehigh’s campus. These suggestions, however, may actually not be the most practical or effective solutions.
It would be extremely difficult to force every student to delete the app. Additionally, students can just move on to the next trending anonymous app if Yik Yak is banned.
According to Wired, research shows that when an anonymous discussion forum is used in an academic setting, students feel less vulnerable and more willing to share their ideas. Therefore, Yik Yak does have the ability to be a comfortable space that can even aid in a student’s identity development.
Rather than urging students to avoid the app, there should be encouragement made to promote a safe and inclusive environment. In order to foster a stronger sense of community, there needs to be an effort made by the individual.
My advice to fellow students is instead of posting something nasty, compliment the girl that gives out cookies during finals week or give props to that Sodexo worker who is always smiling. It might make you feel good to write a mean yak about someone you don’t like, but it feels ten times better to know that you made someone else’s day.
So the next time Dean Mulvihill checks Yik Yak, let’s give him something good to read about.
Fanny Chen, ’18, is an assistant news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]