I hate to do this, but let's talk about Yik Yak for a moment.
As many of us have seen over the past few weeks, Princeton’s local Yik Yak has exploded with denouncements of the Black Justice League’s peaceful protest outside and inside of Nassau Hall. Unfortunately, many of these yaks were quite ugly. There was a fair bit of tone policing going on, with users throwing around words like “disrespectful,” “childish” and “obnoxious” to characterize the protesters’ actions. Some are suggesting that dissatisfied students “leave” if they don’t like the University’s status quo. Worst of all, there are murmurs that the protest has soured campus perception of black students in general.
You don’t need me to tell you that many, many students have spoken out against the narrow-mindedness of these yaks. All over campus — especially on more personal, less anonymous social media like Facebook — students have loudly and proudly proclaimed their support for the Black Justice League’s actions. Especially in response to the yaks that were shared on Facebook, many members of Princeton’s community have embraced those protesting, reinforcing the message that these students are, indeed, loved.
However, less loudly discussed is the support anonymous Princetonians have shown for the sentiments expressed via Yik Yak. Just look at the number of upvotes on each yak censuring the protestors: most of the more coherently expressed yaks are currently sitting at upwards of 50 upvotes, with the most popular one garnering over 200 votes. And while Yik Yak isn’t a watertight example of support — total points don’t reflect number of downvotes, and we don’t know how many Yaks have been downvoted past the disappearing threshold of negative 5 points — it’s clear from the net score many of these yaks have garnered that a significant portion of campus vehemently disagrees with the Nassau Hall protests.
I don’t bring up Yik Yak to denounce the things being said on the platform, though I personally believe many of them are in fact worth denouncing. Rather, I bring these yaks up to point out the unfortunate significance of their support: their popularity shows that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of students who stand opposed to the Nassau Hall protests. I may not agree with them, but I know — from both Yik Yak and personal conversations — that they very much exist.
Here is why I bring these people up: at some point, we — that is, those who stood with the protesters on the north side of campus — are going to have to engage with those who don’t agree with us. It’s not clear when that’ll happen, and it’s not clear how that’ll happen, but we need absolutely everyone on board with our demands, arguments, thoughts and desires if we are to enact meaningful, long-lasting change in our society. Even though President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 signed a modified list of demands, the dissent bubbling up around campus will need to be addressed at some point. This applies to discussions of racism on campus, and this applies to discussions of racism in a broader, nationwide and international sense.
One of the most important things we have to remember about any discussion of bigotry and societal oppression we hold is that not everybody is always on the same page. Yik Yak has shown that brilliantly: many students simply haven’t experienced the kinds of education on cultural and interpersonal racism that the protesters have. This may be because they have fairly homogenous friend groups, this may be because they simply haven’t had anyone close to them who has explained how modern racism manifests, and, yes, this may be because they are white.
Regardless, though, these people exist, and, whether publicly or anonymously, they are loud in their opposition to the demands of those who occupied Nassau Hall. As such, if we are to succeed in ensuring that our protest has meaningful, positive ramifications, we will have to convince at least a fair share of these people that we are right to believe in what we do. It’ll be a protracted and almost certainly painful discussion, but it’s one that will have to happen all over this campus if we are to take baby steps towards eradicating racism in all its forms.
To change Yik Yak, we will have to change the people using it. To change those people, we will have to change the culture in which they — and we — live. To change that culture, we’ll have to work tirelessly and relentlessly towards a radical rethinking of the way we live — and that rethinking will eventually need to involve all of us.
Will Rivitz is a sophomore from Brookline, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.