It’s tough to tell what will set the Knox campus off at any point in time. Over the course of the past month an anonymous mob of social media users have taken it upon themselves to rally against a number of issues. From the “Carry That Weight” to Meatless Monday, toxicity grows within the faceless Yik Yak crowd.
This past week, a usually innocuous Student Senate roundup noting stipend approvals for executive members aroused a knee-jerk reaction against the measure.
This isn’t really news. Senate executive committee members have been compensated for years. They take on a demanding responsibility that oftentimes precludes them from taking other campus jobs.
If anything should have popped out about the story, it was that this year’s exec members took a pay cut to make up for the addition of two new positions: the diversity and health and wellness chairs. This voluntary pay cut enabled the creation of two Senate members to head up issues featured prominently in last year’s student walkout.
Instead, Student Senate was sent into damage control amidst a bevy of discontentment largely voiced on the anonymous, location-based social media service Yik Yak.
Many of the attacks were directed at “Student Senate” as if it were some faceless, inclusive organization of ominous figures aimed at funneling student money into the deep pockets of their shapeless cloaks. Keep in mind these are the same executive members of Senate charged with ensuring students’ interests are accurately represented at all faculty meetings – the people elected last year by the entire student body to do so.
The attacks were aimed at the organization, but received by individual students affiliated with Senate. These organizations do not define them. They are not more loyal to them than they are to their fellow students.
If anything, Yik Yak should be fun. When the app first popped up on the Knox campus it read like an awkward Craigslist personal ad. It is not the appropriate place to address grievances with a given organization in between the numerous personal attacks.
The anonymous nature of the forum makes it impossible for organizations to respond to criticism; it is impossible to prove a poster’s identity. It is impossible for an organization to tell if the concerns are legitimate or just the work of trolls looking to ruin a fellow student’s afternoon.
We tend to think it is the latter. It is difficult to imagine that someone so concerned with the happenings of Student Senate would not attend one of their weekly meetings to air their grievances in person. The TKS editor who attended the meeting that week noted that aside from herself and some campus staff, no students unaffiliated with Student Senate attended the open meeting.
Does this employ some sort of rebellion against a perceived source of authority? Do Yik Yak plaintiffs know that regular students staff these organizations?
Several messages should be communicated. Those involved in these organizations are your peers and are trying to make the most of their experience at Knox by becoming involved in these groups.
We find it especially troubling that organizations like Student Senate that offer up space every meeting for the concerns of students to be raised would be the target for this bandwagon anger. Perhaps if the student body were to invest enough in its governance to note what actually occurred at a meeting they would not be so quick to jump on Yik Yak. But that’s precisely the problem: The app feeds off the ephemeral and the quick to judge.
Knox has a very recent history of students speaking up against policies they do not agree with, not against their fellow students but the administration. These students did not take up an anonymous vendetta, they stood on the steps of Old Main with a loudspeaker to make sure they were heard.
The campus organizations villainized on Yik Yak are bringing the platform to us, the student body; they are opening their doors for criticism and comments. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about and influence your campus.
When students take on roles to contribute to campus policy and discourse – a responsibility above the basic call to action asked of a typical student – they should at least be awarded with the decency of open and informed criticism.