Krista Armstrong – Staff Writer
MVNU administration decided last week to block the trendy new app called Yik Yak from the campus-wide Wi-Fi.
The Yik Yak app allows users to interact with other users within a 10-mile radius. Users can anonymously type and send short messages, called Yaks, which may be read by anyone else within that radius who has the app.
When Yik Yak first made an appearance on campus, it was used in both negative and positive ways. Many people used the app responsibly, posting only amusing, harmless, or relevant Yaks.
But others used it as an outlet for criticism, aggression and personal attacks on professors and peers. That kind of misuse prompted the University to block the app, campus officials said.
“Numerous incidents of students, faculty or staff being harassed, demeaned or attacked on Yik Yak were brought to the attention of university personnel,” Dean of Students Rick Engstrom said.
Administrators then monitored Yik Yak activity for 10 days and “witnessed numerous statements that were full of malice and hostility,” he said.
That behavior made the decision to block Yik Yak straightforward.
The MVNU campus should be an environment of safety and love, said Chaplain Joe Noonen, who has been a vocal critic of Yik Yak.
“I believe God has a very soft spot in His heart,” for those who have been victimized, Noonen said. “And then it becomes an issue of justice. And justice requires a response.”
Though students cannot access Yik Yak through campus Wi-Fi, they can continue to use the app if they connect to it through their personal data plans.
Many students were dismayed at the University’s decision to block the app, and used their data to Yak about it. Most of the Yaks indicated that students felt they were not being treated fairly by the University.
“We are adults, and we should be treated as such,” remarked one Yakker.
“MVNU is supposed to be a place where we learn and grow as adults. If we want to post things on an anonymous site, I think that’s our right as adults and students,” insisted another.
Others felt that the positive ways the app could be used outweighed the negative.
“I’m afraid of people finding out about my depression, and Yik Yak helped me express myself and find those who lifted me up. We’re not all bad people on here.”
And, “I think this was a hasty decision. Yik Yak is a good app where people can have fun and communicate with one another.”
One Yakker even went so far as to say, “Blocking Yik Yak in college is against freedom of speech” — a statement which isn’t entirely correct, University officials pointed out, since MVNU is a private institution.
“MVNU has the right, and one might argue the responsibility, to block websites or applications that are in direct violation of the university mission,” Engstrom said. “Let me be very clear: the offensive and malicious statements made on Yik Yak have no place within our community.”
Students also complained about the University blocking an app on the Wi-Fi that their tuition dollars pay for. However, Engstrom said, paying for internet service does not entitle students to use the service to mistreat their neighbors.
Another Yakker pointed out that blocking access to the app “will do nothing towards changing the hearts and minds of the people who were using it negatively.”
That’s a valid point, Engstrom said.
“I am deeply concerned about the humanity and spiritual wellbeing of the people who are using this app negatively,” he said.
However, protection for the victims is the primary concern, Engstrom said.
“Should we not also be concerned about the people on this campus who were attacked and violated on Yik Yak? What about each of them? What about their hearts and minds? Which group would you prefer we protect—the anonymous ‘community’ of Yik Yak or the members of our community who have been hurt and violated?” he asked.
University administrators are aware that it still can be reached via 3 and 4G, but they hope Yik Yak will become a more positive environment if use of the app persists.
“I hope that we continue to wrestle with how speech can be used to edify,” Engstrom said.
“There is power in the freedom of speech,” he added.
But, “in this case, certain people were hiding behind anonymity and letting others pay the price of their speech. I hope that moving forward, those individuals will leverage speech in productive and empowering ways. I want all of our students to thoughtfully speak — with conviction, honesty, care and respect.”