Though the purpose of the annual Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (NASPA) conference is to educate those in our profession on a wide array of topics and trending issues that affect students, it would seem one of the biggest educational takeaways did not even come from an accepted session. If you are unfamiliar with the issue please get up to speed by reading this blog post from our very own Chronicle of Higher Education. While I am not a social media expert and did not attend NASPA/TPE in New Orleans, I am an educational researcher specializing in qualitative research in higher education. I would be remiss to admit I’m disappointed in this situation, however this is a multilayered issue that cannot be quickly summarized and labeled. Below are the top three notions to keep in mind as student affairs professionals dialogue on this recent issue.
1. Blog post VS editorial news
This is the first issue I would like to address. Just like those distasteful Yaks, the blog post by the Chronicle of Higher Education is just that: an individual’s opinion. Yes, the blog post highlighted the issue of student affairs professionals using Yik Yak unprofessionally. However, the blog should not be considered unbiased news in its slanted tone toward reprimanding the entire profession. The author does not use words such as “some” professionals or even “many” professionals, but just “professionals” in an all-encompassing tone. Just like the yaks from this app, word choice is important and should be carefully chosen—especially in a journalistic sense. Finally, the Chronicle is the go-to news source for many in the profession, (including Inside Higher Ed and a few others) so how should student affairs professionals feel when they go to their regular news/blog source and read editorials such as this?
2. These are an individual’s thoughts, not collective opinions from an institution or the profession
Even with the “upvotes” of a post, it should be understood that this is one person’s opinion. As an educational researcher who has been published multiple times by creditable scholarly journals, the statistical significance of generalizing the profession based on the population surveyed is inaccurate, unethical, and indolent. I can assure you, with over 8,000 attendees present and such a small population surveyed, the generalization possibility is non-existent (and would be rejected by any statistician or anyone who understands numbers), yet the media will make one think otherwise. The unfortunate aspect here is that many (note I said “many” to not imply “all”) comments I have read from sites covering the story are mentally/textually generalizing the profession based on a statistically insignificant sample. This is not professionally healthy and adds unrealistic and unsupported ideals to areas where we work or with colleagues we work with. A conversation should happen with the distasteful Yaks, though it should be kept in context. The media is a powerful force that does not always wait for fact-checking before blogs and articles are publicized.
3. Everyone chooses student affairs / higher education for different reasons
I have a friend who is a car salesman who dislikes his line of work and colleagues in the medical profession who actually dislike their work environment. To assume “everyone” in the profession is there for the best interest of students is unrealistic. While this may sound disheartening, there exist employees who work in a profession not because of the core mission, but possibly because of the money, location, benefits or familiarity of the work. The majority of student affairs professional I have met are student-centered and value the work they do. No one truly knows the core and values of another student affairs professional (except when they occasionally become visible through mediums such as Yik Yak), though their actions and work ethic should give an authentic idea.
Any issue that brings the integrity and value of our profession in question needs to be discussed–especially when there are previous posts on the internet about student affairs divisions trying to combat the issues of Yik Yak.
Additional questions to consider:
1] Can a higher education institution regulate its employee’s social medial habits? If so, how would Yik Yak be controlled?
2] Should a committee be established to downvote Yaks 5 times to make them “disappear”? If so how does this affect the 1st Amendment for institutions that must adhere?
3] Should student affairs professionals intervene in Yik Yak affairs? What role (if any) should faculty play?
4] Are any types of lawsuits possible due to Yik Yak usage? If so which types?
5] Should student affairs professionals intervene with similar social media apps such as Tinder, Grindr, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.? The same anonymous messaging risks are still present—even if not as anonymously-designed as Yik Yak.
6] If students are identified for their anonymous postings in some way – even without causing disruptive harm – should they be reprimanded? Why or why not?
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