LTE: BC Students Are Men and Women for Others… Just Not On Yik Yak

Yik Yak is a seemingly harmless social media app that has taken over the student population at Boston College. Much like a localized Twitter, Yik Yak allows people to anonymously post their thoughts and comments onto the app with only the closest 500 people in a 5 mile able to access it.

As Yik Yak uses GPS to collect and disseminate posts, it is clear that these comments are coming from Boston College students. Some of the comments even reference Boston College buildings or landmarks. In sum, Yik Yak appears to be a way for people to announce events to others close by or simply a space to entertain a local audience.

There is, however, a very clear line between entertainment and antagonism. As any regular user knows, it is impossible to scroll through the feed without laying eye on an abundance of racist, sexist, and homophobic comments.

For the uninitiated, some examples of posts on the app include: “Do all Asians apply to live in O’Neill when they fill out their housing intent?”, “Does hooking up with a Latina count as fulfilling cultural diversity?”, and “It’s hilarious how you can tell which yaks are from black people cus they text how they talk.” These are some of the tamer (and more popular) examples. When other Yik Yak users make an effort to call out their fellow students, they are often met with offensive disagreement.

While it may be safe to say that students don’t hear these remarks expressed so openly on a day-to-day basis, Yik Yak makes apparent that the prejudices students hold lie just below the surface. Take away accountability, and BC students are willing to let the rest of the student body know exactly what they are thinking. Without a filter, to be honest, we sound like a group of bigots.

Yik Yak should be a red flag to the administrators of this school that there is a serious problem with the current way Boston College students are being educated. Yes, racial bias is deeply entrenched in society, the media, and interpersonal networks. We, by no means, are attempting to task BC with ridding all students unequivocally of the prejudices with which they have already lived their entire lives.

That being said, it is not hard to observe the significant lack of programs to educate students on cultural awareness. Engaging in a surface-level “diversity talk” at orientation is not enough. Taking a “cultural diversity” class about globalization is not enough. Having “ethnic food night” in a dining hall once a month is not enough. If there was any doubt, Yik Yak has made apparent that at least some portion of the student body remains ignorant with regard to difference and deeply prejudiced in terms of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

The reality is, there are students on this campus can go all four years without engaging in real, honest dialogue that challenges their way of thinking. This is to the detriment not only of the student, but the entire BC community. Although there are several student groups who make tremendous effort to engage others in these types of conversations, without institutional support they will only continue to attract the same audiences.

Instead of tackling surface issues, we have to look deeper into our policies and programs that enable racism, homophobia, and sexism. If these issues cannot be immediately addressed within BC as an institution (a recommendation which, in itself, needs to be taken seriously), then students should have access to a more comprehensive education regarding systems of power, privilege, and inequality to better understanding the world around them, both within and outside the “BC bubble.”

Whether or not these posts are meant in jest, which surely many are, the less-than-subtle ideologies they espouse speak not only to racial tensions on campus, but also to broader ideologies which continue to rationalize disparities in wealth, cultural capital, and other critical resources.

The reality is that we live in a society that systemically rewards whiteness, maleness, economic privilege, and heterosexuality at the expense of non-dominant groups. The content of these posts, or “yaks” as they are aptly termed, serve to demean non-dominant groups and reinforce the message of white, straight, upper-class maleness that, many would argue, dominates the social scene at BC and shapes campus culture.

We are not blaming people who fit within the aforementioned social group. We are not saying that people do not have a right to express these views. We are not saying that this app should be shut down or censored. As per the First Amendment, everybody should be allowed to say whatever he or she wants to say. Only when we can acknowledge that such perspectives exist can we move toward dialogue. Without a diversity of voices, after all, conversation cannot progress.

What we want to do is ask why these things are being said and provide the opportunity for students to educate themselves. We want to bring these issues to the forefront and talk about them, so that we can move forward into a world without bigotry and hatred.

We realize that the majority of the Boston College population does not represent these views. Hopefully we are not the only ones on campus who are deeply troubled by the unabashed intolerance of some of the members of our community, and the ease with which they feel comfortable voicing such beliefs.

Boston College is an institution known for its strong Jesuit values: for service, for understanding, for love. We all need to take a stand against those who would tarnish the Boston College name. Who better to stand against them but us, their peers?

The FACES Council


May 4, 2014