The Student Government Association (SGA) announced Monday that it will discuss and vote on a resolution at its next meeting that voices support for the University to ban the anonymous gossip app Yik Yak on its wireless network. The meeting will be an open forum for students to voice their concerns since SGA members said they anticipated vocal student responses to the announcement of the resolution.
Students began using Yik Yak last spring and continued its use this fall. The content of its posts address a wide array of topics, some expressing daily woes or amusing incidents, others mentioning students by name and some even targeting certain communities on campus, a phenomenon the resolution states are examples of “discriminatory harassment” and “anonymous hate speech.”
The resolution in question was authored by SGA Sophomore Representative and College sophomore Max Zoberman who, since the announcement of the resolution, has been the target of Yik Yak posts that both oppose and support the resolution.
SGA Speaker of the Legislature and Goizueta Business School senior Luke Bucshon, who has a non-voting position on SGA, stressed the difference between a resolution and a bill, the former simply being a statement of support.
“It’s important to note that, if passed by a majority of student representatives from across the University, this Resolution would simply voice the Legislature’s support for blocking Yik Yak,” Bucshon wrote in a University-wide email encouraging students to attend the meeting. “It would not immediately cause Yik Yak to be blocked, as Student Government has no control over the University’s network.”
Bucshon stated that he does not have an opinion on whether the resolution ought to pass or not.
Recently, members of the Emory community have been discussing these incidents. For example, College sophomore Jonathan Chay posted on Facebook screenshots of Yik Yak posts that targeted and stereotyped members of Emory’s Asian American community and decried the discriminatory nature of the anonymous posts.
The Yik Yak posts and resulting reactions to them have spurred a conversation on campus about the role of anonymous speech on campus, especially on a social media platform.
Zoberman said he decided to write the resolution because there has thus far been no concrete impetus for action.
“As a representative of the [sophomore] class, and as somebody who believes there should be zero-tolerance of harassment, I figured I should do something about it,” Zoberman said.
While Zoberman said it is ultimately up to the students whether the resolution ought to pass, he said he hopes that it does because it would be “a symbolic gesture and less of a functional one by which the University has the opportunity to make its approach to discriminatory harassment and hate speech consistent across all mediums.”
The response to the resolution on Yik Yak itself, however, have been largely negative and has called Zoberman out by name. Other posts have accused Zoberman as being the architect of a larger attempt on SGA’s part to limit students’ free speech.
“Pro tip to SGA: if you’re a representative government and you’re trying to do something that it’s very clear most of your electorate doesn’t want you to do, you’re fuckin’ up,” one anonymous “yak” stated.
Zoberman acknowledged these responses but explained that they misinterpret the purpose of the legislation.
“People are operating under the assumption that if it were to pass, Yik Yak would be instantly unavailable to them, and that simply isn’t true,” he said.
Zoberman emphasized that the point of the legislation is not to police students’ use of the application, but rather that the University ought to continue the commitment stated in its mission statement to upholding “the dignity and rights of all persons through fair treatment, honest dealing and respect.”
“If the University has a stance, it should be consistent across all media,” he said. “It’s all about making Emory a safer space for students and especially its underrepresented student population.”
He added that he purposely did not have other Legislators co-sponsor the resolution in anticipation of personal attacks.
However, Zoberman noted that the overall responses to the resolution have been passionate, numerous and diverse on all avenues of social media, stating that on the day of the announcement there were close to 400 responses, both negative and positive, on Twitter, Facebook, his personal email and others, including a call to his parents’ home in Florida.
College senior Eli Esakoff stated that he does not support the resolution because “it won’t solve anything.”
B-School junior Samantha Kaplan agreed.
“I think the real problem lies deeper than Yik Yak,” Kaplan said. “We need to treat one another with more respect and banning Yik Yak will only put a band-aid on the problem.”
Other students, however, have recognized the need for action.
“I think it’s a good step,” College junior Nowmee Shehab said. “I don’t think that it’s unproductive but I don’t think it gets to the root of the cause.
The responses, Zoberman said, simply demonstrate the need for a forum and open dialogue about the issues of discriminatory harassment and hate speech.
Shehab said she thinks SGA’s actions to create an open forum is a step toward making Emory safer and more welcoming for all students.
Zoberman and Bucshon both said they think it is important for the meeting to be a conversation among students.
“Even if it doesn’t pass, I think it has begun a conversation about hate speech and discrimination,” Zoberman said.
College Council has voted to fully support the resolution.
SGA’s open forum, which will be held during SGA’s regular meeting on Monday evening at Eagles Landing in the Dobbs University Center, will not be the end of the conversation, Zoberman said.
“This is a matter of principles and ethics,” he concluded. “It’s about who we choose to be as a student body. Are we going to be the kind of student body that accepts hate speech? Are we going to be the type of student body that accepts marginalizing of members of our own community?”
– By Rupsha Basu, News Editor