University of Rochester President Joel Seligman said he will not ban the social media site Yik Yak on the university’s wi-fi network, in response to recommendations from the school’s Commission on Race and Diversity, Feb. 3.
“At this time, I will support several steps to eliminate racist communications from Yik Yak being transmitted through the university wi-fi networks, but I will not now support a ban,” Seligman stated. “To ban Yik Yak from University wi-fi networks would be ineffectual, and counterproductive. Hateful statements could still be posted to Yik Yak using a user’s own wireless network provider, or on other social networks using aliases, or assumed names. Significantly, to ban Yik Yak from our wi-fi networks likely would end our ability to secure Yik Yak’s support in helping identify those who send hateful statements, and to strengthen filters to exclude hateful or threatening messages.”
Seligman established the commission in November, after several incidents of alleged racism, and racist postings on the social media website had been directed at African-American students at the school’s Douglass Leadership House.
The incidents sparked campus-wide, student protests, and a student and faculty petition to Seligman, which prompted the school to create the commission.
Commission members have voted 14 to 2 in favor of blocking Yik Yak on the university’s campus.
“Commission members thought that blocking access would signal strong public support of our students,” the commission’s report stated.
However, according to Seligman, blocking students use of the social media site on campus would not stop students from using the site overall.
In addition, he said “Banning Yik Yak is not merely a symbolic act. Academic freedom is also a core value of our university. If I were to ban Yik Yak from using the university’s wi-fi networks, I would begin a new and unbounded process by which my defense of the free expression rights of our faculty members, the student newspaper, speaker selection, faculty hiring would be undercut.”
According to Seligman, the university will instead implement a series of steps “to move toward the elimination, or virtual elimination, of any further hateful and threatening messages communicated through Yik Yak.”
Yik Yak had not responded to subpoenas from the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office requesting information to identify threatening posts from the university’s users in March, but, according to Seligman, Yik Yak is now cooperating with the authorities.
“When I began as president some ten years ago, I stressed that the challenge of achieving diversity, based on mutual respect and mutual trust, would be a never ending one,” Seligman stated. “With this report, and with the future final report of the Commission on Race and Diversity, we take substantial steps forward.”
Visit https://www.rochester.edu/president/memos/2016/response-to-commission-interim-report.html to view Seligman’s full response.