Serigraph on T-shirts, 2014Community project initiated by racist Yik Yak comments at Georgia College.
March 3, 2014
A message from Dr. Bruce Harshbarger, GC V.P. for Student Affairs and Dr. Andy Lewter, GC Dean of Students, Georgia College:
On Saturday, Pres. Dorman sent a message to the campus community denouncing online posts by a few individuals who undermined the core values of our university by posting hostile racial slurs about visiting schoolchildren who were causing lines in The Max.
Some of the authors of those posts would undoubtedly say "It was all in fun - we didn't mean any harm." Anyone at GC who finds fun in posting racial insults at children and intimidating those in the campus community who deal every day with the challenges of being different from the majority have probably made the wrong choice in their selection of a college. GC's values involve embracing and celebrating the differences that characterize our community and our world. It is our exposure to difference that provides one of the key aspects of a higher education.
One of the posters on Friday wrote "If a bunch of black people started talking sh** about white kids on a predominantly black version of yik yak, no white people would care, let alone get offended." That's a very valuable observation - if an action or comment stands alone and isn't part of a larger pattern of oppression, it can be easy to shrug off. If it impacts an entire group of GC students at a level that cannot be shrugged off, then it's important for all of us to understand the larger context of oppressive experiences that impact them on a daily basis.
Over the weekend, a number of GC students, faculty and staff got together to take a stand against these recent slurs and any other harassing acts that can damage the welcoming nature of our campus. We're proud to share their letter below with the Georgia College community:
Friday morning, Georgia College was glad to present "Willy Wonka: The Musical" to 800 students ranging from Pre-K to the 8th grade. It's always a great opportunity to be able to open our University to younger students to be able to show them the many different events at our college. After the musical, students were allowed to tour our well-kept campus and beautiful school. After the tour, students were also invited to be able to enter The Max and enjoy a nice lunch with college students present. When younger, students are always amazed by nice universities and college students. Younger students look to us with admiration as adults who are able to advise them on schools, scholarships, choices, and many other aspects of life. What they do not ask for, however, is that we judge them as "degenerate little fu***" who are "fuc**** up the Max." During lunch that same day, as students were enjoying their meal at the Max, they were attacked and degraded by many GC students who were also there. The GC students used a social network app called Yik Yak, an app similar to Twitter, that allows anonymous status updates in a person's geographic area.
Sadly, on February 28th when middle school children went for a bite to eat at the Max, they were not aware of having been the subject of racist remarks from our own student body. It has now become very clear to us that we as a school have a long way to go. We say this with the knowledge that this is not the first incident that has created a unwelcoming climate of hate amongst our community. Three years ago a fraternity hired African American kids to pick cotton and act like slaves. Two years ago anti-Semitic Easter Eggs were hidden all along campus and another fraternity was celebrating "Wigger Day." The same year, discriminatory memes on Facebook were released. Now, this year we have hateful remarks and a child being verbally accosted by a GC student. Some of the remarks released on the Yik Yak app are as follows:
"Take the race card and put it back in the deck you stupid monkeys."
"Guard your wallets."
"We can make fun of them all we want but they probably have bigger dicks than we do."
"Somebody get up and auction them off."
On Georgia College's admissions application, one of the required questions to answer asks how students can contribute to welcoming diversity on campus. Between this, the Smith House - a specialized location for celebrating our differences - and initiatives such as the Theatre department's "Spotlight On Diversity" campaign, it is easy to think that Georgia College is immune to all discrimination.
Children should be innately free from all manners of harassment and discrimination, especially in a college environment such as GC's which should foster such freedom and hold itself to a much higher standard. Milledgeville is better than its history and we as students, faculty, staff, and members of our community are better than this.
The following quote was just released in The Colonnade, under the editorial of "Our Voice": "We are all striving to better the future for the gay community, but hate will always be abound, and sometimes, it’s not our place to say no to it." This is what happens when we do not scrutinize all hateful types of behavior. This is not coming from us and it is not our voice. It is ALWAYS our place to say no. Throwing your hands up and saying "there will always be hate, so why bother" is not an option. With this attitude around campus, it is not a mystery to us why the discriminatory slurs were released and the above quote was published on the same day. The first step that we need to take involves admission that this attitude is wrong. Whenever you see someone being treated in an inhumane way, you should step in and say "That is not okay." Why would it not be our place to take up for another human being? Another step that we have to take is to stop hiding behind anonymity. Own your words. If you wouldn't say it with your name attached to it, then should you really say it? If you have to say "I’m not racist, but…" stop where you are and analyze what you are saying and the thought process behind it. Educate yourself. We have to step forward into our future and work together to understand each other. We have to work with one another to get rid of intolerance. People have suggested that discrimination doesn't exist, or that we simply need to stop talking about it in order to make it disappear. This is not an option and ignoring a situation never makes it better. It is time for us to have a family conversation and to act on it. It is an uncomfortable conversation, but it is far more uncomfortable to those who are targets of such animosity and hostility. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The following list of names consists of a small sample of the GC community who decided to come together and stop the hate. We will not continue to put up with hateful words, thoughts or actions towards anyone of any race, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and expression, religion, or ability. Our fight against hateful speech and actions doesn't end with the words on this message. Please join us in our continuous fight against ALL forms of discrimination and hatred.
Veronica 'Cree' Stefler
Sarah Rose Remmes
Ernesto R. Gomez
Dr. Andy Lewter
Dr. Veronica Womack
Dr. Bruce Harshbarger
Responding to Offensive Posts on Yik Yak, Professors Stage Social-Media Takeover
At the end of a semester plagued by offensive social-media posts, professors at Colgate University on Friday started a campaign to bring some positivity to digital communications on the campus.
Using the smartphone application Yik Yak, which allows people to submit anonymous comments visible to other nearby users, professors posted positive messages to students, wishing them luck on their exams, praising their work, and infusing an uplifting tone into the digital discourse. Unlike most users, the professors signed their names to their posts.
"Yik Yak has been a source of aggravation for people in the campus community," said Geoff Holm, an associate professor of biology who developed the idea to "occupy" the app. "If this is going to be something that is driving campus culture, it's important for faculty to have a presence."
In September, Colgate students organized a 100-hour sit-in to protest what they believed to be institutionalized racism at the university. They cited racist posts on Yik Yak as one cause of their concern. Colgate's president, Jeffrey Herbst, acknowledged the posts, calling them "appalling."
After discussing his "take back the Yak" idea with several colleagues, Mr. Holm announced the effort, dubbed "Yak Back," by email and Facebook. He estimates that more than 20 professors have participated.
One of Mr. Holm's aims was to subvert Yik Yak's reliance on anonymity.
"If we have opinions, it's important to own them," he said.
Valerie Morkevicius, an assistant professor of political science, said she hopes that seeing professors use Yik Yak will encourage students to think before posting potentially offensive comments.
"Maybe they would not be so free in saying some of the things they say if they know people whose opinions they care about are reading," she said. "For me, what's really great about this idea is it's a way we can reach out to our students where they are. Our students live in this digital world, and we can help them navigate it more responsibly. We"re using their own media to try to reach them on some different levels."
Ryan Solomon, an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric, expressed skepticism, however, about the positive messages his colleagues had posted.
"We were making it seem like Yik Yak is a fuzzy place where we all go to give each other group hugs," he said. "If we were really gonna go onto Yik Yak and do what Yik Yak does, we would have to go on there and be brutally honest. What we were doing in some ways was not a fair reflection about the dynamics of Yik Yak, so we may have been making it seem more benign than it really is."
However, Mr. Solomon added, he values the aspirations of the campaign, especially its effort to draw professors into the campus conversation.
Some students responded on Yik Yak by "upvoting" their professors' posts and submitting appreciative comments.
The Yak Back is one of several ways people on the campus are responding to what Barbara Brooks, director of public relations and marketing, called a "turbulent semester." The event took place two days after the university held a Candlelight Service of Reconciliation in the campus chapel to encourage reflection. According to Ms. Morkevicius, professors are drafting a petition to ask the university to deal with concerns about issues that include the use of anonymous social-media services to threaten individual students.
Article for the Chronicle of Higher Education by Rebecca Koenig, December 2, 2014
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