Should administrators leave Yik Yak to the students?

All negative posts are 'teaching opportunities,' says NASPA president

The recent controversy surrounding administrators' purported use of anonymous, geography-based social media app Yik Yak at the annual NASPA meeting has led to a wider discussion about the role of the app in student affairs, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

No break from Yik Yak troubles at student affairs conference

At the conference in New Orleans this week, it appears student affairs administrators took to Yik Yak to share their (not always PG) experiences. Because the app is anonymous, it is impossible to prove who wrote the controversial messages, but many posts included details that suggested they were posted by attendees.

The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up on the activity and word of it spread.  

In response, NASPA added a session to the Wednesday morning schedule: "Yik Yak @ the NASPA Conference."

A major theme throughout the session discussion, says attendee Brittany Duron, a graduate student at Slippery Rock University, is that people were most concerned with maintaining professionalism and relationships on campus—not necessarily the content of the "Yaks" themselves.

And if students see the negative press about the conference? Student affairs officials should use it to educate students, says session organizer Rey Junco, an Iowa State University associate professor of education and computer interaction and a Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society faculty associate.

Junco encourages his colleagues to explain that "higher education professionals are real people, too" and to lead a conversation about personal responsibility on social media.

Reasons to Yak

Students will find a way to rant no matter what, says David Parry, a Saint Joseph's University associate professor of communications and digital media, calling Yik Yak modern bathroom wall graffiti.

The app has been linked to stories of threats, bullying, and racism, but being active on it allows administrators to contribute positive messages to the conversation as well, says Parry.

"Although I hate some of the things I read on Yik Yak, they're all teaching opportunities," says Kevin Kruger, NASPA president.

What professors should do about hate speech on Yik Yak

The app also gives administrators a way to monitor campus climate, argues Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism and communications at Lehigh University. "To me, that's kind of like the fire alarm," he says.

Some experts on the subject caution against overreacting to the app. When Lehigh sent an email to the student body to condemn the app, for example, more students signed up, says Littau. Before, not many actually even knew it existed, he explains.

And although the company has seen recent venture-capital backing, the business model may not be sustainable, says Tracy Mitrano, Cornell University's director of Internet culture, policy, and law.

"To date, all the negative gossip sites have failed," says Mitrano (Fabris/Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/27; Schmidt, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/29).

The takeaway: Controversy surrounding Yik Yaks at the annual NASPA meeting has spurred a larger discussion of the role of the anonymous messaging app in student affairs on campuses, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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