Yik Yak ban contradicts Grinnell’s commitment to self-governance

I think we can all agree that the one principle most associated with Grinnell College is that of self-governance. The Grinnell College website describes the consequences of successfully enacting the concept of self-gov as creating “a community based on freedom of choice.” The college website further describes that principles of self-gov as:

* You are responsible for your community. This means engaging in a variety of levels to build, maintain, and contribute to the campus, local, and global community.

* You are accountable for your choices. Accountability means taking ownership for your actions, opinions, and beliefs.

* You are accountable for preventing your actions from infringing or violating others’ rights.

* You are responsible for speaking and listening to others to reach shared understandings.

* You are responsible for addressing situations and communicating concerns about issues that undermine community or individual rights – whether it be your own or others.

[emphasis added]

Additionally, the site declares that self-gov is supported through:

* an administrative structure intentionally designed to challenge and support students to govern themselves. [emphasis added]

* an academic structure encouraging choice through an individually advised curriculum.

* a campus community committed to social consciousness and community involvement.

By the school’s own definition of self-governance, the onus is on the students, with the administration acting as back-up, to teach and encourage these principles. In other words, the school, constantly reminding us to practice self-gov, asks and encourages us to act like adults living in the real world. Recently, however, the college has taken actions that contradict this message, specifically by blocking access to Yik Yak on the college servers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the communications office sent out a campus memo in which they slipped in a notice that the school “will no longer support access to an app that has shown itself to have a corrosive influence on this campus, and which has facilitated damaging attacks on members of our community.” While the intentions of the administration are laudable, they are also problematic. Arguably (and many do argue this), Yik Yak damages self-gov. Some of the “yaks” show a serious lapse in responsibility and respect. However the College’s blocking of the app from its servers shows a larger and more sinister violation of self-governance than posts from anonymous yakkers. Personally, I cannot stand Yik Yak; the power behind its anonymity disturbs me. However, I find the College’s ban more disturbing than the app itself.

I take several issues with the ban, but the primary issue is the mixed message that this ban sends to a campus that hinges the functionality of its community on the concept of self-governance (the encouragement to act like adults). The reality of the situation is that the problems created by Yik Yak exist in real life too. Anonymous posters and the content of the problematic posts are not new nor unique to the Grinnell College campus. People make racist, homophobic, offensive, incendiary, etc. comments both in real life and on the internet, and in the real world there is no entity protecting us from that. As adults, we are expected to confront these issues by engaging and opening up discussion about problematic statements, listening to other opinions in order to further understanding and keep the channels of discussion open, and address these concerns in ways that could improve the situation. Interestingly enough, the school specifically defines these things under the concept of self-gov. In other words, day in and day out, accompanied by the phrase “self-gov is love,” the administration insists that we act like adults.

The administration’s message concerning the Yik Yak ban begs us to act like adults, yet imposes a consequence more suitable for children. Such an action does not mirror the realities of the world outside of Grinnell. In fact, it further adds to the campus community’s chief complaint regarding Grinnell College (next to “self-gov is dead”): the “Grinnell bubble.” The Grinnell bubble separates the campus from the real world, and I don’t mean physically. In the Grinnell bubble, we live in an idealistic world in which we attempt to operate in the ways we want the world to work. However, the world often does not work how we wish it to  work, and often students experience shock and discomfort when their Grinnell blinders are removed. The bubble perpetuates naivete, and the Yik Yak ban perpetuates that. The ban sends the message that anytime someone is disturbed by a comment, a higher entity will swoop in to the rescue.

The harsh reality is that there is no such entity in the real world. Now, that’s not to say that action should not be taken against dangerous or threatening posts on the app or even in real life, but Yik Yak has proven itself amenable to tracking down the posters of harmful yaks so that the appropriate action can be taken, and that’s precisely the route that should be taken in those cases. In the case of ignorant remarks, however, there is not much that can be done about it, considering ignorance thrives anywhere and everywhere. A better, easier, and less damaging response to ignorant or disturbing yaks would be to delete the app from your phone. As I’ve already stated, I don’t like Yik Yak. In fact, I would go as far as to say I hate Yik Yak and the premise on which people use it. As such, I have never downloaded or engaged with the app and my life has been incredibly easy without it. Anyone who doesn’t care for the app or its contents can easily opt out.

The administration’s response to problematic posts on Yik Yak does nothing to further the goal of self-governance; instead, the ban imposes upon students unrealistic expectations about how the world works, in direct contradiction to the college’s goals and expectations for the student body. I understand the issues other people take with Yik Yak, and they align with the issues I’ve had with the app since it first exploded on campus.

The better solution would be to either for personal users to rid themselves of the app and/or for the campus community to continue conversations about it, talk to people, start support groups, open channels of discussion, and do whatever it takes to align with the concepts of self-governance, but it is inappropriate to treat us like children while asking us to act like adults.

Don’t hold our hands and ask us to walk without assistance. Don’t just take away our toys — teach us how to use them. Make us stand up and face the real world, because this ban only solidifies the Grinnell Bubble, and ultimately sets us up for failure.


  1. Andy Troxell

    May 8, 2015 at 8:25 PM


  2. Nice answers in return of this difficulty with real arguments and explaining the whole thing about that.

  3. That’s what happens to a yik yak if you give it gum I think

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