The Power of the Yak

I’m in the habit of checking my phone every morning, usually while I’m still half-asleep and wondering if today will be the day I leave myself enough time to eat breakfast before class. I start with checking my email to get any Campus Distributions out of the way, then move to Facebook to see if there are any birthdays about which I care. After a quick check of Snapchat, I finish off with Yik Yak, the anonymous social media app that has taken Colgate by storm over the past eight or nine months. In case you haven’t yet had a chance to ride the Yak, the app lets anonymous users post up to 200 characters at a time, which can be seen by people within a certain geographic radius of the poster. Posts, or “yaks,” can be up-voted by users if they are popular or down-voted if they are unpopular or offensive. If a yak receives five down-votes, it disappears forever. There’s really not much more to it than this, but it has provided Colgate students with the unprecedented ability to reach out to many of their peers anonymously. While Yik Yak seems to be primarily used to complain about the weather and one-ply toilet paper, it also serves as an unofficial source of campus news and a place for students to discuss how they feel about Colgate.

A few weeks ago, during the Association of Critical Collegian’s sit-in at the Hurwitz Admission Center, Yik Yak received a lot of attention. The app was the source of a number of controversial yaks that, regardless of how quickly they were down-voted out of existence, were clearly inappropriate and reflected poorly upon the school. In addition to these offensive yaks, the overall face of Yik Yak changed during that week; the poop jokes and discussions of binge drinking gave way to discussions about Colgate’s social climate and the status of diversity on campus. Yaks in favor and opposed to the sit-in were followed by long chains of replies respectfully (and at times disrespectfully) discussing the sit-in. I was personally impressed by the amount of respectful dialogue taking place on the anonymous app, but I also felt that this was not the majority opinion. After a day or two of the sit-in, yaks such as “I miss the days when I could read Yik Yak on the toilet,” began to appear; people were sick of having meaningful discussions through the anonymous platform.

In the days since the sit-in, Yik Yak has reverted to its natural state of complaining about Colgate’s wi-fi and insulting various fraternities, but I’m left to wonder why more meaningful dialogue can’t continue to take place. While Yik Yak may seem like an inappropriate venue to talk about diversity, there is power behind anonymity. People who felt afraid, uncomfortable or too uninformed to be a physical part of the sit-in and ongoing discussion about Colgate’s social climate felt more comfortable being able to contribute anonymously. This leads to more people who are informed and care about important issues.

I’m not arguing that Yik Yak should become a highly intellectual space; that’s what Moodle posts are for. Rather, it should be just as acceptable to yak about your Netflix binge list as it is to ask a question or contribute a respectful opinion about diversity, or anything that meaningfully impacts the student experience at Colgate. Colgate students Yak about what they care about. If we can care about diversity as much as we care about hating on Hamilton College, I think Colgate will be in a better place.