Yik Yak,an app that allows users to post anonymous messages for viewing solely in their local area, is being used by some students to criticize their college professors and faculty, causing issues on some college campuses.
In an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Schmidt details the experience of three female professors at Eastern Michigan University who were ridiculed throughout a lecture via Yik Yak. They unknowingly had over 100 yaks posted about them, most of which were “demeaning”and “insulting”in nature.
“The episode at Eastern Michigan is significant because it highlights the potential for anonymous online comments to sour relationships among students, faculty members, and administrators,”Schmidt said in the article.“Instructors who once felt in charge of their classrooms can suddenly find themselves at students’mercy.”
Yaks at Lafayette this past week, such as “have you been interested in completing the Lafayette Safe Zone program but haven’t been able to squeeze it in? And the award for best unintentional pun goes to: intercultural development [sic],” and “way too many professors on campus can be mistaken for a homeless person [sic],”show that the app has been used to criticize members of the Lafayette community outside of just students.
Some faculty members have personally experienced negative yaks from students.
Director of Gender and Sexuality Programs Gene Kelly has seen negative yaks concerning himself and other faculty members. Following a yak that said,“Gene Kelly can’t be trusted,”Kelly discussed the matter with his supervisor.
“People don’t understand the power of an upvote,”Kelly said.“One person becomes 100 people in seconds. You never get to address the complaint. If you want to have a conversation, don’t hide behind a computer screen.”
Professor Brittany Perry, who had been unfamiliar with Yik Yak, has dealt with disrespectful students and eye rolls, but not ridicule on a social media platform.
“If this had happened to me, I would be hurt but I guess I would have to suck it up,”Perry said.“I do care about what my students think of me. I’m always checking ratemyprofessors.com and read course evaluations.”
“Where do we step in to say this is [student’s] free speech? Do we want to go through the trouble of tracking them down and punishing them and is that even appropriate?”Professor Perry said.
Some students find using Yik Yak as a means of free speech acceptable, but have issue with its use for cyberbullying or discrimination for professor.
Professors with difficult classes or larger workloads are especially targeted, according to Christina Yerdon’18.
“[Students should] seek out help for stress instead of talking about professor anonymously on Yik Yak,”Yerdon said.
Yaks that reach a vote of -5 are removed from the site, but there is also a student at Lafayette who acts as a Yik Yak representative. He is paid to notify Yik Yak IT about yaks that violate the rules, but fail to be sufficiently downvoted.
“I’ve never seen anything too vicious on there, and I’ve never seen professors personally targeted by name,”Yik Yak representative at Lafayette Jonathan Dempsey ‘15said. “But it’s hard to control what’s posted and [in] general I think students download YikYak for good use.”
Despite intentions for “good use,”Yik Yak continues to cause problems within the college community.
“Maybe we are just the ‘Mean Girls Generation,’”Kelly said.“But you should be mindful of what you are saying and who it impacts.”