Yakkity Yak: Talking Back

Professional conferences leave me feeling so refreshed and reenergized. I recently attended NASPA in New Orleans, and I had a great time. I’d never been to NOLA and so I enjoyed exploring the city as well as attended some great sessions on important topics. It was during some down time that I decided to look at Yik Yak to see what the content was like in a different place. That is when I saw all of the controversial Yaks that so many of us in the field have been talking about.

Initially, I was appalled. People who I consider colleagues were talking openly about their judgements on the appearance of others, about how they wanted a “conference hook-up”, and how they were partying on Bourbon street. In my mind, conferences are a chance to learn new things about our field and better myself professionally by networking and bringing ideas and suggestions back to my campus. I don’t know if it’s my status as a new professional or my naievete, but I was shocked to think that some professionals go to conferences for other, maybe not-so-professional reasons. A lot of the things I saw certainly did not align with my values, and so I began to wonder why people were posting these things that they knew would be controversial.

And then the responses to the Yaks came pouring in. As a new professional, I was offended (and still am, as I recently saw another response that said this) that so many people seemed to think that these Yaks were solely coming from grad students or new professionals. I read many responses from mid-levels and up responding directly to the Yaks…who went on the app themselves. I know many mid-level professionals who use Yik Yak on their campuses…and so I would hesitate to think that it was JUST new professionals and grad students who were posting. And apparently (as some of the Yaks stated) the behavior being discussed is not a new thing at conferences. If it WAS all new professionals posting at the conference…where did they learn that the behavior was acceptable? I feel as though a lot of people responding were hesitating to take some responsibility…

Which leads me to the next point many people were bringing up. A lot of people discussed how Yik Yak is a safe place for people to voice their opinions without being judged for them, and that the larger picture is that there is some discontent within our field. I know personally I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be “professional” lately. We have professional standards for our field, ranging from everything to behavior to dress to how we interact with our students and others. Are there some parts of our standards that  marginalize people? Who set the standards for professional dress? Are our standards stifling people? Are they outdated? There have been a lot of conversations about this type of thing on #sachat, and a lot of people believe that standards need to change. Perhaps they are right. But I just wonder if using Yik Yak was the best way to voice that discontent. We may never know who posted those things and why…and that’s a shame. It was a chance to start a conversation…and that chance has been lost to those who posted.

And then ther’s another small part of me that thinks that people knew those posts were going to get some type of reaction, and were doing it just for that. Maybe these people wanted to bring to light some of the hypocritical behavior that professionals engage in at conferences. We teach our students about healthy drinking habits and objectifying others and safe sex practices…but it would seem that some choose to forgo this during conferences. By posting it, some people could be saying “What we’re doing and what we’re saying are two completely different things.”

All I know is that, admist the controversy it caused, the conversations that have stemmed from this incident are fascinating and pose some overall larger questions about how we want to act and be portrayed as student affairs professionals. Some people have said this behavior needs to stop while others say it’s a chance for us to change. I think we need to look more closely about what “being professional” exactly is, how it affects us, and how we can hold each other accountable for that even admist professional standards.

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