The Student Government Association’s (SGA) proposed resolution to call for the University to ban Yik Yak from Emory’s wireless network (EmoryUnplugged) is not an offense against freedom of speech. Brush up on your legal jargon, and you’ll realize that private institutions such as Emory are allowed to implement restrictions on your speech. Ignorance is bliss until SGA tries to take your Yik Yak away. In possibly losing Yik Yak, we are paying for a mistake much greater than uttering words that must not be named.
That mistake is abuse. But let’s start with the good. It is strangely beautiful how candid people are on Yik Yak. Today, I can scroll through and find people brave enough to say,”I’m a muscle head and I start every workout with ‘Shake It Off’,'” or to ask, “How often is ‘normal’ for masturbating?” Do you see the beauty of the Yik Yak platform? By allowing people to post and interact with others anonymously but within defined geographic communities such as universities like Emory, Yik Yak has cultivated a space for people to speak their true minds to people who will both see and care about what they have to say. No censors. Freedom of speech. That is beautiful. When you can speak your mind without having to care what people will think – that is the gift of freedom of speech, but we abuse that gift when we forget to care enough to think before we speak.
The abuse is obvious. Numerous Emory Yik Yak posts have gone too far. Discrimination. Hate speech. Violation of Emory University Code of Conduct and Mission Statement. Those posts are not worth quoting. You know what abuse looks like, and if you don’t, you can go on Yik Yak and find out. It is not beautiful.
We must then not focus on Yik Yak. Who cares about Yik Yak? I could rant about the problems of anonymity. I could go on about how technology provides a certain unprecedented security behind the screen. You do not need to hear those words, at least not now. The issue is not technology or your social confidence. Yik Yak is a glaring instance of select members of our Emory community lacking empathy. This is an issue of a few members ruining the game for the entire team, but we are a team, so we must learn to move forward together.
In her book The Empathy Exams, Brooklyn-based essayist and novelist Leslie Jamison addresses the meaning of empathy:
“Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia – em (into) and pathos (feeling) – a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?”
This is why I am writing to the student body now. I am not the most active member of the Emory community. Far from it. I do not attend frat parties or homecoming events, and I am a member of zero clubs. But bear with me, because I care a lot about you.
I am a writer, and as such I do most of my work behind the safety of a screen. Most days, I feel anonymous. Most days, I wish I had the capacity to be a more social creature. I speak up now because, some days, something in the world strikes me with such fervor that I know that I must act. I step out from behind my screen in the only way I know how. I write.
So I ask you now to think about what it means to enter into the feelings of a fellow human being. What does it mean to exert genuine empathy? When you interact with friends, family and strangers, especially strangers, do you crossover into that person’s country? Do you engage in that person’s world in such a way that you enter a new world, their world and must ask yourself what crops grow here? What laws does this person follow? What animals graze these fields? Every person is different because of details. Empathy is recognizing details. Do you know how to ask yourself the questions to uncover the details that distinguish people as worthy of your respect? Can you see the border between respect and ignorance?
SGA cannot ban Yik Yak. We have our data plans, and we can hop over to Starbucks for WiFi. The point is: love better. Love with ferocity, but think about how you choose to lash out. Passion has consequences. Think about those consequences before you submit your passion to the world. And forget about Yik Yak. Who cares about Yik Yak? SGA is not taping your mouth shut. They’re taking away a toy because some of us were ignorant, so now we all have to learn what it means to abuse. You can fight SGA’s proposal for Emory to ban Yik Yak, or you can fight for Emory to say no when we fail to love our own. I say let SGA do what it needs to do in regards to Yik Yak, because this is not an attack upon free speech, but an opportunity to remember that life exists outside the screen.
– By Alex Rosenfeld