"Yik Yak or Bubonic Plague?"

Alex Kaplan and Will Nuelle

You don’t come to school on a random Tuesday in late February expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen. But truthfully things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it is unplanned disasters that have the biggest impact. The scary thing about the Yik Yak “crash and burn” is that it had nothing to do with Yik Yak and everything to do with us.

A term that we are bombarded with here at Latin is ‘community’. Part of a community, in this community, how could our community be part of something like this? Whether or not Latin even fits the dictionary definition of a ‘community’, a separate question entirely, being a community does not make a place exempt from falling prey to scandal.

Communalism, the core idea behind a community, is based on shared general property, people working to support one another and for the common good. It is quite strange that we use the word community to describe Latin for a variety of reasons. Our community has two paradoxical themes: group camaraderie and ‘it’s a cutthroat world out there, kids.’ We say, “help others around you, but do whatever it takes to be the best.” We all feel the pressures of those two ideas.

The logical question would be to ask, “why did this happen?” But that’s not so simple of a question to answer. It is a slippery question, frankly. You might attribute it to teenagers being stupid and careless, with frontal lobes that are not fully formed, but that would be an inadequate excuse. This is not a question that can answered by science; it’s a question of the heart. At a school where we walk around touting ourselves as “sophisticated”—whatever that means—it would be contradictory to simply walk away from this Yik Yak issue citing that we’re just teenagers and therefore do not have to be held accountable for our actions. That’s not the argument anyone is making, though. While the onset of this craze might have been surprising, it certainly was not isolated; whether it is gossip or spewing vitriol every which way, our community’s always had a vast capacity for judgement. Where that comes from is impossible to say—maybe it is the small community, maybe it is differences in upbringing. But, what we can conclude is that it is a cultural issue: we, as students, need to stop carrying around such animosity towards others. It’s unhealthy. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”; there is no commandment greater than this. There is no need to repeat what was said on the app, but it is clear from everything that has transpired that we have not been loving our neighbors as ourselves; there is an unhealthy amount of resentment in the school.

The aforementioned set of themes is the reason why the Yik Yak incident does not surprise me in the slightest. No matter how much school spirit and surface-level ‘I love you so much!!!’ the school has, Yik Yak may have hinted at a disconcerting reality.

While the realization that homophobia, racism, sexism and more are still alive (and kicking!) at Latin may be thoroughly disheartening for some faculty and students, it is an important one that must be made. We all must use this incident as a wake up call that everything is not as perfect as we may have thought.

It is not enough to say that the issue is done now that the infamous day of Yik Yak-ing has run its course. It opened up a chasm in our community, exposing the dark innerworkings that we were collectively too afraid to consider. It is not even worthwhile to denounce everything that people said on the app; we, as individuals, must know what is wrong with what was said. What’s been said has been said and we will never reach closure about who said what and why. It will forever go unsolved—that is a fact. Far more important, though, is that we consider what the whole ordeal—the effects of which will never be truly eliminated until everyone is long gone—says about our community.

Firstly, we pride ourselves on being a widely accepting community: we bring speakers in every MLK to talk about race and everyone listens, we have strong clubs dedicated to sexuality and we talk about how it makes us so special, we have alliances for all kinds of people and preferences, we tell each other that it’s okay to be ourselves. Is it a lack of self-awareness, a myth, or a flat-out lie? By definition, you are not a person who believes in racial equality if you use racial slurs. They have hurtful connotations attached to them. The same goes for homophobic slurs, or any kind of slur. It would not be fair to call all of us liars and neither would it be true. But it is more realistic to say that as a community we have a heightened sense of our own open-mindedness. There is a serious issue when it comes to looking ourselves in the eyes and realizing that we are sometimes wrong, that sadly we are capable of being racists, homophobes, sexists, gossipers and the works—and often are. That is a hard thing to change; it’s the question of instinct vs. intellect, a battle which we’d like to think intellect often wins, but instinct typically does. We all have grown up in a society where bitter hatred isn’t accepted, but still thrives in the corners of our darkest alleys, in the depths of our sewers, and also straight down Main St. As much as we would like it not to be true, our instincts say that it is okay to be hateful if you won’t get caught for it even when our intellect tells us that it’s not okay. We need to change our instincts. It is not enough to let the actions and words of others influence what we think is right and wrong.

We are hopelessly critical of one another. If we don’t like what someone is wearing, we don’t tell that person directly, but rather our friend sitting directly next to us and we snicker at the outfit choice. We laugh at the person who doesn’t get good enough grades, we laugh at the person who gets the best grades—all they do is study, right? We laugh at the person who never parties and also at the person who parties too much. And we also laugh if you’re too fat or too skinny, if you’re too wealthy or not wealthy enough. What we’re doing, folks, is creating the impossible prototype. And guess who fits the prototype? Not a single one of us. Not you, not me, not a single human being. We create social, academic, artistic, and athletic standards that no person in the world can meet! Well, if no one is meeting the standards, then maybe they are a bit too harsh. Anyone ever thought about that? We’ve created a community where you are expected to compulsively meet the “standards.” It probably has a lot to do with the way we as students are scrutinized: test scores, grades, community service hours, “how many nights did you go out last weekend?”, “Varsity or JV.” Nobody ever asked if we liked being scrutinized, so we think it’s normal and in turn we do it to ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s naive to think that these pressures in our larger American society don’t exist. Let me put it bluntly: they do. But that does not mean that we should impose them on ourselves. We should try to eliminate them from our community, because for the rest of our lives after high school, we’ll constantly have to fend off and deal with these standards.

Another problem that was apparent on Tuesday was the “bad and funny” dichotomy. If someone said that Yik Yak was bad and that we should stop doing it, someone else would respond, “but it’s funny,” as if that made everything okay. We treated the situation as if it being funny meant that it necessarily wasn’t bad. Bad and funny are not mutually exclusive! In fact, a lot of funny things in this world are “funny” because they are rude or hurtful. We’ve grown up in a culture where hate and bullying is permissible if it’s funny enough. The Daniel Tosh’s of the world make us think it’s okay to make fun of others. There are thousands of publishers and TV networks and websites that will do almost anything to get views, and frankly, rudeness gets attention. However, we need to see beyond the commercial appeal of the things around us and consider their intentions and this basic question: is this here to make other people feel good or bad?

The biggest issue that Yik Yak created is the loss of trust. Exacerbated by the fact that Yik Yak is anonymous, we as a school don’t know who to trust. Mr. Fript said it best on stage: if he was a teenager and something bad was written about him, he would come back to school and not know who is a friend and who is foe. The reality is that both our dearest friends and our most mortal enemies could’ve posted a bad comment about us; now the gap between the two has been shortened and we are left feeling hopeless and clueless. So large a portion of our population was hurt. Nobody likes to have mean things said about them and you’d be hard pressed to a person who genuinely feels good saying mean things about others. It sucks that so many things were said that can make so many people question their own self-worth. A person’s self-worth is sacred and every person should have the right to feel comfortable. Sadly, by letting this happen, we have tarnished that; we’ve made this place unsafe for all of us.

And among all the anger, disappointment and regret, there is an unbelievable opportunity ahead of us. We can choose to rebuild this community from ground up, if we’d like to. We can build a community not founded on resentment and superficiality, but on camaraderie and honesty with ourselves and with others. Entire communities don’t solve problems until each person has looked within themselves for answers; after all, a group is only a collection of living, breathing, empathising individuals that all have their own problems. It’s part of life to have ups-and-downs and that is especially true in a high school where emotions run high. We learn from our experiences, both good and bad. Wherever this stands on the spectrum—closer to bad—there are things to be learned from this. It can teach us how to treat others with respect in the future or it can tell us where our inherent cultural animosity comes from. The Bubonic Plague didn’t spark up for no reason: conditions were unsanitary. An outbreak was bound to happen. We must look inside and see ourselves for what we really are. It’s time to face our demons, Latin.

Authors’ Note: We don’t really have a grand solution to this issue. Let’s figure out a solution together, though. Keep the dialogue about this issue going and comment with your thoughts! Also, the bubonic plague references are in no way meant to marginalize the bubonic plague by association with something as petty as Yik Yak. Nothin’ like a little hyperbole, though.