“A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak” (or, EMU made news in the CHE)

And now it would appear that the recent Yik Yak controversy has made its way to the Chronicle of Higher Education with this article, “A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak.”  And once again, I think this is something that some enterprising young person at The Eastern Echo ought to write about. There is definitely a story in the student angle on this whole thing.

The bad news is it’s behind the CHE firewall; the good news is, thanks to the kindness of friends online, I have been able to snag a copy of it. I don’t think it’d be right for me to just post the whole thing here, but let me share some quotes and comments.

First off, the setting (which I kind of knew before, but I think that’s key here): this was a mandatory interdisciplinary studies lecture hall class of 230 first year students, and it met at 9 am on Fridays.  The article says that students “resented” having to be there and were “unhappy” about what had been going on before the Yik Yak incident. If I were a first year student and I was told I had to show up to a lecture hall class on a Friday morning, I’d feel the same way.

So during one of these sessions and after the class had been going along for a while, the Yik Yak conversation got a little crazy. And then this:

After the class ended, one of its 13 fellows—junior and senior honors students who were helping teach—pulled a professor aside and showed her a screen-captured record of what she and her colleagues had just gone through. Students had written more than 100 demeaning Yik Yak posts about them, including sexual remarks, references to them using “bitch” and a vulgar term for female anatomy, and insults about their appearance and teaching. Even some of the fellows appeared to have joined the attack.

In an email to administrators later that day, one of the three, Margaret A. Crouch, a professor of philosophy, said, “I will quit before I put up with this again.”

Of course, the question that remains for me is if that class fellow student hadn’t pulled a professor aside to show the screenshot of the offending conversation, would this have happened? If a Yak falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?

I don’t meant to be flip about it, but I do think it’s tricky and this whole situation exemplifies the futility of stopping this kind of inappropriate speech and thought completely. Just to state the obvious: I think it’s wrong for students to refer to/think of their teachers as bitches, vulgar terms for the female anatomy, and to insult their appearance. That’s a given, and I think that when that happens directly– as in the student going face to face up to his GA/part-timer/lecturer/professor and saying “I think you’re an ugly bitch”– that student ought to be punished. I can understand the position of “I will quit” if that sort of face to face confrontation is not addressed.

But what happens when that sort of thing is written anonymously on a student evaluation and delivered to the teacher after the course? Should the administration try to find and discipline that student? What if this is something a student just says to one of his friends and then the friend reports this abusive language to the teacher; should the teacher punish that student? What if the student calls his teacher a bitch with a text/a tweet/a Facebook post/an email/a handwritten note? Are we going to ban those mediums?

What I’m getting at here of course is that obviously it’s a problem when students call their teachers vulgar names, but I think there are some equally obvious limits about completely eliminating the possibility students will write or think vulgar things about their teachers. Banning Yik Yak certainly wouldn’t solve this problem.

(Two quick tangents here.  First, I know both Margaret Crouch and Elisabeth Däumer and I feel bad that they’ve been embroiled in all of this. No one deserves to be abused by students or anyone else like this, and I’m sorry that this happened to them.  I don’t think the solution is banning Yik Yak obviously, but don’t interpret my “defense” of Yik Yak as defending the right for students to be assholes.  Second, I’m using the term “teacher” rather than “professor” because I think it’s more inclusive than “professor.” Professors are, by definition, more empowered at the institution, and quite frankly, I think the non-professor teachers are much more vulnerable to abuse like this. But that’s perhaps a conversation for another time.)

But again, I think this article makes it clear that it wasn’t just Yik Yak:

The professors characterized the online abuse as part of a hostile work environment. In a confidential report on the Yik Yak incident issued last month, Sharon L. Abraham, the university’s director of diversity and affirmative action, said the professors had “described a classroom environment where students talked during lecture, responded aggressively to requests to stop inappropriate behavior, and were generally disrespectful.” It said the professors had “felt threatened when dealing with students in the class who were physically large and male.”

Some Yik Yak posts about the professors suggested racial and cultural divides.

After one of the professors described a topic as too complicated to get into, one student wrote, “Are you calling me stupid? I’m an honors student bitch!”

Another Yik Yak post said, “She keeps talking about Detroit. Bitch, yo white ass probably ain’t never been in Detroit.”

[Professor Elisabeth] Däumer recalls reading the Yik Yak posts directed at her and asking herself, “Just who the hell did they think they are?”

Ms. Crouch says the Yik Yak posts “wrecked the class” and “made it impossible for us to appear in front of the 220 students again.” The instructors did not confront their students about the remarks, she says, because “we did not really feel we had any authority anymore.”

I hate to say this, but this passage suggests to me this class had kind of “gone off the rails” well before this Yik Yak incident. In reality, it doesn’t seem like Yik Yak wrecked the class so much as Yik Yak was the last incident in a previously wrecked class.

And by the way, if a teacher of any sort feels threatened by a student, then that teacher should immediately contact their department head and campus security. I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone is a threat only because they are “physically large and male,” but I also think that if the teacher thinks there is a problem, that teacher should get that problem solved and solved in a hurry.

There’s this about yours truly and EMUTalk:

Steven D. Krause, a professor of English, subsequently argued on his blog,EMUtalk.org, that Yik Yak represents a potential teaching tool and banning it would be “shortsighted.” He questioned whether the students’ comments were anything but protected free speech, and argued that the union should focus its energy elsewhere in contract talks.

Well, sort of. I think students have the right to free speech, I think that Yik Yak does have some potential applications in the classes I teach (particularly as a “discursive site” to discuss with students), I don’t think Yik Yak should be banned, and I do think the union has much bigger fish to fry in contract negotiations. But I don’t condone the student comments. I suppose students might have the “right” to call their professor a bitch in the broadest sense of free speech, but that isn’t something I support.

The article goes on to cover ground we’ve already talked about here, how while Yik Yak has given up the name of people involved in specific crimes, they haven’t given up the names of people who post harassing things, etc. One other thing I think is interesting: “The only student so far punished in connection with the Yik Yak incident is one who stepped forward and confessed.”

Here’s how the piece ends:

For her part, [EMU-AAUP President Susan] Moeller, the faculty union’s president, said in her email the three professors had been “stonewalled” by an administration that “has refused to determine which students are responsible for the sexual harassment.”

Ms. Crouch says pushing for new contractual protections against harassment is her only available recourse. “If anything happens,” she says, “it is going to be because we make it happen.”

I guess this leaves me wondering what exactly is the “it” we are going to make happen here?

58 thoughts on ““A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak” (or, EMU made news in the CHE)

  1. Sitedad, we don’t have campus security at EMU, we have police officers. This isn’t Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

    The problem that really should be addressed is not Yik Yak, but the class. Similar to Marshawn Lynch responding to interview questions with the same non-answer for 4 minutes, students were ‘fighting the man’ through Yik Yak. Unfortunately, the teachers were the manifestation of ‘the man’ and not the Honors College, because they were present every week, and right there in front of the class. Anyone that actually read the Yaks would tell you that the large majority of them revolved around ‘Why am I being forced to take this class?’ Students saw no value in a course that talked about e waste recycling, urban planning, and whatever else was a topic. There were a lot of Yaks about bringing a pillow to class, or skipping class and reading about it on Yik Yak. I think students saw the idea of taking this class to remain in the Honors College as a waste of their time and money, and being that they’re inmatute, they picked the easiest target, (even though that target had nothing to do with anything), and lashed out inappropriately (calling someone a bitch). Although calling someone a bitch is not a good use of vocabulary, questioning someone’s authority to speak about a subject (Detroit) is actually pretty thoughtful, in my opinion.

    At the end of the day, the students got exactly what they wanted, the ‘stupid waste of time class’ to be over. So, although the means are questionable, the ends did justify the means. As some people have already stated, if students felt like there was an outlet to give meaningful feedback (course evaluations are not meaningful feedback), they might not have lashed out as harshly on Yikkity Yak. I’m torn between applauding the students, and shaking my judging finger at them.

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  2. The thing that strikes me in this incident is the extent to which the class had gone off the rails. The reaction to yik yak is a case of confusing the message with the medium. It’s sort of like saying the Arab Spring was a result of twitter.

    What really happened here is that a pathological classroom dynamic developed. The real solution boils down to how to manage and recover from that pathological dynamic.

    What does it mean for a professor to have authority? Any class is ultimately a cooperative affair. Students and professors have to work together to achieve learning goals. If that dynamic breaks down, it’s not because of yik yak or anonymous flyers, it’s because something in the original compact that governed the classroom dynamic broke.

    Ban yik yak if you will. A number of Middle Eastern governments have tried to ban twitter, even the Internet. It’s still not working out all that great for them.

    Things will work out better at EMU if faculty and students come together to figure out the cause of this break down in the classroom dynamic. I’d start by talking to the one student who confessed. I’d ask the faculty involved exactly what it means to have authority and why they think they lost it.

    Put in the simplest terms, the path to a solution here is through dialog targeted at rectifying the pathological classroom dynamic that developed, not through punishment.

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  3. It sounds to me like the problem (besides the obvious attitude, sexism, and professionalism problem these students have) is whoever decided they needed to put well over 200 students in a single class that the students don’t see as relevant. I took a class with Prof. Daumer that was interdisciplinary and had around 25 students in it. She was engaging and really went out of her way to ensure that what we were studying was relevant to our educational goals and interesting to us, but still challenging. This large-format class with multiple professors and fellows, which apparently does not involve these Professors’ areas of expertise and isn’t related to the students’ field of study sounds like an enormous clusterfuck and a terrible allocation of resources. I don’t know how anyone could 1) learn, or 2) effectively teach under those circumstances. And they clearly have the manpower already in that room to break it up into smaller, more relevant sections.

    I agree with the Professors that they can’t be expected to teach with this Yik Yak situation happening, but obviously if there are only 20 kids sitting in the room, it’s unlikely that more than one will be writing on Yik Yak and feeding off each other’s inappropriate remarks until it gets to this point.

    Unfortunately, I think that this would have been better handled as a “don’t feed the trolls” situation. I hadn’t heard of Yik Yak before this, and I’m not THAT old. I bet there are more Yik Yak users at EMU now since this has all blown up. And unfortunately, letting immature children know that the hurtful things they said were received and succeeded at being hurtful will only encourage them.

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  4. I agree with both comments posted here.

    Although professors may not always feel like we are in a position of authority or power, we do indeed represent “The Man” to our students. It’s a hard position to own, especially if you’ve spent a lot of your academic career struggling against institutions like the Patriarchy or institutionalized racism, but we need to own it in order to understand our students’ perspectives and our place within complex systems of power.

    Also, I don’t want to criticize my colleagues’ classroom practices because teaching a lecture hall is HARD. I think it would be doubly so on a Friday morning with a group of entering first-year students taking a required course. I’ve taught lecture hall classes on-and-off for the past 15 years, and learned pretty quickly that a mob mentality can take over if you don’t establish and enforce some fairly rigid rules for classroom decorum during the first few weeks. And, that was long before things like yikyak, smart phones, or social media were in our lives.

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  5. “Of course, the question that remains for me is if that class fellow student hadn’t pulled a professor aside to show the screenshot of the offending conversation, would this have happened? If a Yak falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

    I completely agree, and I think it is pretty rude to shove a mobile device in front of a professor and say, “Look at all the vile shit people are saying about you!” The students who post hateful messages on YikYak are, simply put, immature assholes who think every thought of theirs needs to be shared with the world. By acknowledging them, you simply feed their desire for attention.

    I had no idea what Yik Yak was before this kerfuffle, it seems like this has provided Yik Yak with lots and lots of free publicity. More people will be checking it out now, wondering who is saying what about whom. How is that a productive outcome?

    Why even dignify the students with a response? Ignore it, and stay above the fray.

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  6. Steve, you know I respect you and your work, but I feel like this post leans dangerously into victim blaming territory. Regardless of whether or not a class was going well (and from whose perspective?), or whether or not students wanted to be there, they should never have posted such misogynist remarks. I know I’ve stated this before, but the misogyny is the real problem here, not these other issues (including the use of yikyak). And whether or not the professors were aware of the yaks as they were posted is irrelevant; the yaks created a hostile classroom environment, and the students participated in that hostility not through productive questioning, but through taunts like “professor cunt” (yes, I’ve seen the yaks). Between the stalking of female professors by students, as well as the *ongoing* misogynist yaks attacking female professors, I think that EMU has a fundamental problem that it needs to address by having open conversations with its students and faculty.

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    • Well, three thoughts here. First, I’m not blaming the victims here at all, and all the claims about the class not going well come straight from that CHE article. As I said, I feel bad for Elisabeth and Margaret and the others involved in all this.

      Second, I’m saying the class appeared to be having troubles before this infamous Yik Yak event because of what is being reported. Note this is not something I’m just making up and/or guessing at; I’m quoting extensively from an article that describes the ways the class went off the rails. And note that the reporter from the CHE appears to have talked with Crouch, Däumer, and others at EMU about all this. I think that’s how others are interpreting this article as well.

      Finally, as far as the general misogyny of the culture goes. I agree, that’s of course a huge problem in society at large but particularly on college campuses. Far too many students are being sexually assaulted on campus and while I don’t think that’s a particularly new phenomenon, it seems like it’s only now getting the attention it deserves.

      But again, let’s not confuse the problem with the medium. Yik Yak doesn’t cause misogyny (and btw, the same goes for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc., etc., etc.); rather, it makes this undercurrent of misogyny and racism and hate starkly visible.

      I don’t know if this link from the CHE discussion will show up, so let me copy and paste this comment that I think is pretty spot-on about this:

      Yik Yak is just a platform. Does anyone honestly think that the students wouldn’t think in this way if the tool did not exist?

      The problems are much deeper. It’s an overall online culture of incivility, vulgarity, suspicion, and hatred. It’s faculty who condescend to student perspectives and/or disregard their academic freedom. It’s students who assume that the university and faculty exists to accommodate their individual schedules and lives, and who are intellectually incurious. It’s the politicization of the curriculum. It’s the fact that humans being in general are flawed, some more than others. And so much more.

      Banning Yik Yak would only cover up these underlying problems. Dealing with them directly, at the institutional and classroom level, up front, and via appropriate channels of feedback is a much harder task, but one that might actually make a dent in the problems.

      The culture on Yik Yak may be poisonous right now, but it didn’t get that way by itself.

      I’d say the best way to combat the problems of misogyny online and everywhere else is to bring it out into the light and to talk about it. Teachable moments.

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  7. One aspect of this that I think is going undiscussed in any serious way is EMU’s dismal track record of offering meaningful support to faculty targets of this sort of harassment. Much of the discussion is instead focused on a) whether (some/all) female faculty need thicker skin and b) whether the AAUP’s demand that EMU ban YY and unmask the students who made the inappropriate comments is reasonable. Both of these ignore the larger issue of why we have a campus climate where this type of inappropriate behavior is regularly tolerated by administrators.

    EMU has a long history of hiding under rocks when it comes to the need to support faculty (of all stripes & tenure designations) who are experiencing hostile or inappropriate treatment in the workplace, whether that treatment comes from students or from other employees.

    When it comes to addressing inappropriate student behavior in the classroom, campus disciplinary procedures are opaque and weak. Faculty who file a complaint often don’t even know whether the complaint was received by somebody, let alone what (if anything) is being done to investigate or address the situation that gave rise to the complaint. In the meantime, faculty often have to continue trying to teach in a very difficult environment where they, and often other students, feel extremely uncomfortable, in the dark, and unsupported.

    Additionally, the MO of EMU’s diversity office is typically to divert attention and avoid any hint of blame or even acknowledgement of a problem. That attitude, while potentially understandable from a purely risk-management perspective (admit no wrong!), does nothing to improve campus climate. It can actually empower bullies and sexists. It leaves the person or people who brought the complaint feeling as though EMU has thrown them under a bus. It is easy to read that as a sign that EMU really does not value its employees and does not care about building a safe campus community.

    In this specific case, perhaps a purely disciplinary approach would be challenging, given the more or less anonymous nature of YikYak and complexities of digital communication. But the EMU administration could have pursued many other options to send a loud and clear message that this type of behavior, while probably legal, is not condoned in our classrooms or in our community.

    Instead, EMU apparently stonewalled and pretended there was no problem and left these professors in a very difficult position to fend for themselves. On a personal level, as someone who has faced down similar student behaviors in the past, I might have chosen to “fend” in a somewhat different way than these specific professors did, but I can really sympathize with them when they express that they felt their employer did not offer any sort of meaningful support and instead, left them in a lurch.

    EMU’s administration has a demonstrated history of lack of leadership, creativity, or seriousness when it comes to these sorts of issues. Unfortunately, EMU’s utterly non-responsive attitude ends up condoning this type of inappropriate behavior, and will only encourage more such behavior in the future.

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  8. I wonder if anyone has a workable solution to the misogyny that women, particularly female Professors, are experiencing. It’s not like you can make Yik Yak vanish. Banning phones and laptops in classes would be a start.

    My mind jumps to making WGST 101 a required first-year gen ed class, to educate people about how harmful this kind of behavior is. But of course, the class isn’t there to change minds.

    I wonder if U-M has this problem to this degree? I have to wonder if it is a reflection of the fact that a lot of EMU students don’t care if they’re there or not, were raised in, let’s say, less intellectual and progressive environments and never taught to not act out sexist micro-aggressions against every woman they meet.

    TL;DR I don’t know if those sorts of attitudes can be “fixed.” I really feel for the female Professors suffering this abuse, and I feel deeply that they shouldn’t have to. But I don’t see any way to control what people post on anonymous websites. If I were them, I’d enforce a strict no laptops, no cell-phones policy. I’d have students sign a contract authorizing the professors to throw unauthorized electronics into a cinderblock wall and invite anyone who doesn’t like that to leave.

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    • Waldo, I think there is a difference between addressing our misogynistic culture, in general, and addressing the more limited culture on our campus, or in one program (honors), or even in one classroom. I do not seriously expect EMU’s administration to “fix” our overall society. I do seriously expect them to respond in a constructive and thoughtful manner when we are talking about issues that directly impact our campus, one of our programs, and one of our classes.

      Also, there’s a further difference between the way some subset of students interact with each other and talk about their instructors outside of class in private (written/digital or oral) conversation, versus DURING class and on a public platform.

      Like probably every female professor ever (and a good many males too, I’m sure), I am aware that students have occasionally said some very rude and inappropriate, often sexual, things about me outside of class in casual conversation. Word gets back, you know? That is obnoxious, but it doesn’t bother me all that much. On the other hand, if a student were to address me IN CLASS as “professor cunt,” I’d have a very different reaction, and I’d expect every other student and all of EMU’s administrators to back me up. To do otherwise threatens the integrity and safety of the classroom/program/campus for every student and all employees. This is why EMU’s non-response to date bothers me. They are simply throwing up their hands and in the process, actively degrading our classroom, program, and campus environments by seeming to condone this behavior in our own local culture.

      As for TL; DR, I am unsympathetic. Serious discussion about complex matters, especially in written format, sometimes takes up a bit of space. If you aren’t willing to read a few paragraphs, then I am dubious about the seriousness with which you consider the issue.

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      • Licorice, I seem to have upset you. The TL;DR was not intended to convey my unwillingness to read the entire conversation; on the contrary, I did read it, and thoroughly. It was intended to sum up my rambling thoughts. I’m actually on your side, and am legitimately asking for constructive input, so please don’t pick apart what I’m saying as if it is an attack or ignorant.

        Please believe me when I say that I take this seriously and I think the administration should, too. But again- I do not know how to address these comments when they are posted anonymously. And while I agree that there are merits to attempting to educate students about why this behavior is unacceptable, I have yet to experience or witness a single instance of changing the mind or behavior of a misogynist when there wasn’t a threat over the misogynist’s head, like losing a job. Not one. Attempting to educate people who think and feel that such behavior is funny or appropriate about why it is not almost invariably worsens such behavior. Can’t you just hear an 18 year old loser who would call a professor a “cunt” whining and gaining social capital by live-tweeting what a “cunt” the professor for his mandatory remedial WGST class is? Can’t you see people posting screengrabs on Facebook of a mandatory online module about micro-aggressions and saying ignorant things about feminists? I honestly believe that if someone is so far deep into mistreating women in positions of power as these students were, a class or seminar isn’t going to fix it. But I am not dismissing the fact that it should be taken seriously by the administration- I am just honestly at a loss for how that would be undertaken in an effective manner that doesn’t just exacerbate the problem.

        I don’t think it’s constructive to be angry at the administration for being unsupportive without being able to put forth a solution that would actually work.

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      • Fair enough, Waldo, I will take you at your word. I’ve noticed that TL;DR is often used (elsewhere) as a way of dismissing what someone has to say, is all.

        Regarding solutions, I can think of quite a few ways that the administration could have demonstrated that a) this sort of behavior is not accepted here and b) the admins are willing to back their faculty on having certain expectations regarding appropriate classroom conduct. At the very least, it would have been nice if they’d approached the various constituent groups on this campus (including, though maybe not limited to, the two faculty unions, student government, the student life/student affairs folks, etc.) to invite a broader conversation about these types of issues. Instead, they did what they always do and turtled. Unfortunately this is not the first time that faculty have experienced a lack of support from administrators when it comes to matters like these; in fact, it is typical. I expect a bit more of my administrative colleagues in the way of good leadership and creative problem solving.

        While you are probably correct that some people’s minds will not be changed, this is not a reason to remain silent in the face of offensive behavior. Even if you don’t change hearts and minds, there is value in making community norms transparent. This is how groups socialize new members. The fact that these were first year students entering an honors program in the fall semester gives me reason to believe that there was an opportunity to do a little bit of education about expectations, appropriate conduct, and modes of dissent. What happened instead is that EMU (perhaps unintentionally) taught these students that what they did is ok, because the administration has taken no steps to signal that it wasn’t.

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    • You are assuming that misogyny was involved: that is, the three professors were harassed specifically (in part) because they were women.

      From everything I’ve read so far, I rather suspect three male professors teaching the same course in the same way would have received similar levels of abuse, perhaps targeted to their anatomy. Students have a rather low tolerance for poor classroom experiences, and these days are more likely to express it (in my day you simply complained late at night in the dorm).

      Misogyny is, of course, inappropriate (I suppose these days one explicitly has to say that). As a professor myself I’d prefer not to be harassed in a classroom. But as a professor I know that an appropriate classroom experience starts with me.

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      • Sure, male teachers get harassed/abused by students too in both electronic and face to face forums, and your point here about “your day” and expressing your frustrations in the dorm is important. Social media of all sorts makes for some very fuzzy lines between private and public spaces, and I’m pretty sure that the students posting the offensive things here in this Yik Yak attack didn’t think their yaks would be viewed by anyone other than other students. Most Yik Yak users seem shocked there are any “grown ups” in that space.

        But back to the issue of the misogyny here: female teachers get harassed/abused at an overwhelmingly higher rate than male teachers. I don’t have the stats, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 10 times more common for female teachers to face harassment of some degree or another from students than it is for male teachers. So we can’t just factor the gender issue out of this experience entirely and hypothesize the same problems would have occurred if it had been three male teachers leading this class.

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      • Most people who post to social media, be it Yik Yak, Twitter, etc, are surprised when their words get out to the wider community. For whatever reason they don’t think to engage their internal filters. But that’s social media.

        I certainly get that women instructors are harassed at higher rates (we could get into the weeds as to how that’s defined and measured, but still). So I won’t factor out gender issues entirely. But I will note —

        — required class
        — 3 hours at a time
        — faculty teaching something that isn’t in their wheelhouse
        — rotating faculty and TAs
        — droning lecture format
        — repetitive syllabus and instruction
        — not imparting anything new or insightful

        Male or female, you’re going to get hammered for that.

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      • I disagree about the misogyny. While I agree that a male or female professor would have received negative or inappropriate remarks under those circumstances, using the word “cunt” in particular because someone dislikes a class seems to reflect a specific disdain for women. I’d liken it to someone using “the N word” in circumstances like the Yik Yak class- everyone might be upset about the class and complain about it on social media, but the person who used that word wouldn’t be using it if he wasn’t also a racist.

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    • Licorice, your comments are always spot on, and I am grateful for them! You boil things down to the essential principles.

      Two points from me, to stress what’s obvious but neglected in much of this EMU controversy:

      1) students do have free speech, including on social media; but,

      2) nobody’s free speech entails the right to disrupt class (or “the educational process”), and reasonable rules & policies can and should prohibit such disruptions. This is settled law, folks! (You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater unless there is a fire.) Not every utterance is reasonable or allowed in all situations, including classrooms.

      Social media changes some things, but not the essential grounding of free speech: people are responsible for what he or she says, or writes. Educators should not be intimidated by corporate entities like YY or the group-think behavior of some students that produce sexist disruptions of the educational process. EMU rules rightly prohibit the targeting of people for verbal abuse based on gender and other personal identities. Yet such verbal sexist abuse was widespread in this large lecture class, and it disrupted the educational process.

      People have a right to be offended. All work places, including universities, have the right to regulate behavior in the work place/class room. EMU fails to do so, quite often, in educationally productive ways.

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      • I don’t want to belabor this too much for all kinds of reasons that I assume are obvious, but let me build off of Mark’s post here to raise a couple of points.

        First, don’t conflate the kind of harassment/speech acts that happen in face to face settings with the harassment/speech acts (anonymous or otherwise) that happen in social media and other online spaces, particularly in what can logistically be done about it.

        Consider this face to face scenario: As I understand it, there are/have been situations at EMU in which one person on campus (usually a woman, sometimes a student, sometimes a teacher) has a court ordered restraining order against another person on campus (usually a man and usually a student, though it certainly could be a teacher) for some previous problem like stalking. To further complicate things, there apparently have been situations in which the stalker/person being restrained has purposefully signed up for the same class as the restrainer, and when the person being stalked complains to the university about it, EMU has been unwilling/unable to do anything, the administration’s logic being that the restrained stalker also has a right to education. In that situation, I think the administration has an obligation to do something, and frankly, the solution is incredibly simple: make the stalker take a different class. This just seems like a no-brainer to me. So if this scenario actually is/has played out at EMU (I’ve never been on either side of a restraining order so I have no idea), then that’s messed up. The administration can and should fix this.

        But if the harassment is online and anonymous, “doing something” becomes a lot more difficult. Service providers like Yik Yak (and Facebook, Twitter, Google, EMU [which falls into that category because it provides us with email and such], and on and on) have not been very willing to give up information on merely offensive language from its users easily, and the courts have not made this easy either. As the CHE piece says:

        The professors focused their energy on urging the administration to try to identify the students who had written the offensive posts and to punish them for violating the code of student conduct.

        But while the company that offers Yik Yak helps law-enforcement agencies identify the perpetrators of certain crimes—a policy that has led to the arrest of people who have anonymously posted threats of violence at colleges—the company does not otherwise identify anonymous posters unless ordered to do so by a court. Experts say it is hard to persuade judges to subpoena such information, and Eastern Michigan’s lawyers decided not to go that route.

        So, I completely agree that EMU can and definitely should stop people who have restraining orders out against them to sign up for classes with the person trying to restrain them. If the problem in this class had been a group of students stood up and started yelling profanity at the professors, then I think the administration should have (and would have) punish those students. But I think asking the administration to go after these anonymous Yik Yakers is both legally murky and logistically incredibly difficult. I completely understand the frustration of everyone involved that motivated the union’s call for EMU to ban Yik Yak, but it just isn’t that easy and obvious online as it would be face to face.

        This brings me back to what Mark is saying here: it actually isn’t settled law, it actually isn’t clear if this is like shouting fire in a theater. There’s even a case winding its way through the U.S. Supreme Court right now about the murkiness of all this; here’s a link to an article on HuffPo about it, Elonis v. USA. Basically, the case is about Anthony Elonis who was charged and even served time in prison for making threats against his ex-wife on Facebook. Elonis argued free speech and his threats, which were presented more or less in the form of rap lyrics, were protected. The court is ruling is expected in June, btw.

        Anonymous speech online has also been protected– sort of, at least in terms of how it’s been presented and what someone offended by anonymous speech can do about it. Long-time readers of EMUTalk may know that there’s a clause in The Rules 2.1 which references section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. What this says, according to this article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is I am not liable or responsible for the comments made by others on this site. That’s because in that sense, EMUTalk is merely a “service provider,” much in the same way that it’s long-established law that you can’t sue the phone company if someone calls you with threats, you can’t sue gmail if you get threatening email, etc.. I am guessing Yik Yak is exercising similar legal arguments as a “service provider.”

        But to get back out of the legal weeds: the point is the medium does have a tremendous impact on what can logistically be done about harassment, as this case makes very clear, and the law really hasn’t quite caught up to the technology in terms of what is and isn’t free speech in social media.

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      • Steve, your post in reply to mine is thoughtful and constructive. Yet while neither of us are lawyers specializing in free speech, I respectfully suggest that my previous comment about “settled law” is in fact correct, as I was discussing the right to protect workplaces and classrooms from disruptive actions. The Facebook centered current court case of threats you refer to does not address the same issues as I my comment did, so it is different terrain.

        What I posted was this —

        “nobody’s free speech entails the right to disrupt class (or “the educational process”), and reasonable rules & policies can and should prohibit such disruptions. This is settled law, folks! (You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater unless there is a fire.) Not every utterance is reasonable or allowed in all situations, including classrooms.”

        If someone in a class yells and disrupts class without being identified, it is still a violation of the university policies protecting the classroom’s educational process. Prohibited behavior does not suddenly become permissible, if you can engage in the behavior anonymously.

        The YY comments were written and read during class, in the classroom, and they clearly disrupted the class and some attacked specific persons based on their gender: thus they violated several university policies. They were prohibited behavior, rightly so.

        These policies protecting the classroom’s educational process and banning individually targeted verbal harassment are well within settled law’s perimeters for what institutions can permissibly do to regulate speech.

        Still, admittedly, taking constructive action in response to the YY discussions that abused of the educational process and targeted women instructors on account of their gender may well be complex and difficult. But the principles are clear — as Licorice has said better than me.

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  9. Whether or not you intended to, Steve, your post shifts the much of the blame to the profs and away from the students. You can state that you feel bad for people and still blame them for what happened to them. While I don’t think banning yik yak would solve the problem, dismissing what happened as a class simply going off the rails doesn’t either.

    In response to Licorice, there is some move to have a required class that addresses sexual violence (including harassment) and some WGST classes would be among the options. I think it will be an uphill battle to create such a requirement, but some of us are trying. Maybe this incident will help people understand why this is important, but given some of the comments in official faculty conversations about it, I am not feeling very optimistic. Instead the focus has been on banning electronic devices and whether or not people are in control of their classrooms. (The implication being, quite often, that women are not good at controlling their classrooms.)

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    • You’re right, I’m not intending to shift the blame to the profs. Obviously I don’t blame them for being the targets of these offending Yik Yak posts in the first place. But I do think that the CHE piece is trying to figure out just what the heck happened here, and in the course of doing that, I think the article (and the comments on it– there were over 115 the last time I looked at it) does point out some of the mistakes made and argues for what could have been done differently. That could be read as blame, I suppose. I think a lot of the conversation here has been about that too.

      As for a some kind of required course that addresses issues of sexual violence and harassment: it seems like a good idea, but the devil is in the details. It’s hard to add something to gen ed without taking something out, and I also kind of worry that if a series of discreet classes on this wouldn’t have the unintended consequence of just making it another required subject for students.

      Maybe there’s a way to bring up these issues across the curriculum in meaningful ways– that is, instead of it being in the “sexual violence course,” it’s incorporated into a variety of points in the curriculum. That’s really really hard to do, of course. These kind of campus/community-wide cross-curriculum moves are workable at smaller liberal arts colleges, but at a big huge university with a lot of commuting/returning/transferring students, not so much.

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  10. “If I were a first year student and I was told I had to show up to a lecture hall class on a Friday morning, I’d feel the same way.”

    Seriously? Wow. Students resent “having” to be in class at the University they’re attending and are encouraged in such resentment by University faculty.

    “Of course, the question that remains for me is if that class fellow student hadn’t pulled a professor aside to show the screenshot of the offending conversation, would this have happened? If a Yak falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

    What is the “this” that you refer to? Because, surely, even if Prof. Crouch had not been made aware of the specifics of the harassment happening in the classroom, a gender-specific hostile environment was created by it — a hostile environment for the students subjected to the harassment both contemporaneously AND after the fact And a hostile environment for the professors having to teach through a fog of misogyny freely leveled at them by the students they were supposed to teach AND subjected to the harassment after the fact. You reframing the facts of what was done as “no one being around” is false and meant only to support your clear agenda to minimize and dismiss the hostile environment created by students against their female professors.

    You dismiss the very real hostile actions taken by students as somehow justified “resentment” at having to show up for class and blame the professors both for the hostile environment (for example, how do you know the class had gone off the rails as you blithely allege) and their response to being called bitches and, apparently, cunts.

    Indeed, the absolute refusal of you or the initial publication to use the word clearly implied by “a vulgar term for female anatomy” whitewashes what actually happened. Students freely called their professors cunts and bitches and demeaned them *based on their sex*. Your response is to whitewash, deny, minimize, and dismiss.

    If EMU academics are distressed at being in the national news again for yet another sex-related misdeed, I suggest they look to the actions and attitude of their male colleagues in helping to create an environment where such misdeeds can flourish.

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    • I think it’s kind of interesting (in a sort of meta/discursive analysis sorta way) that this comment– which I think is really the most aggressive/ad hominem attack so far in what has otherwise been a pretty respectful discussion– is anonymous. I’m okay with that; we’ve talked about that before at EMUTalk, and I think there’s definitely a place for people to speak out about something without attaching their actual name to it. Many of the “regulars” around here post anonymously/with pseudonyms. But like other people who post here anonymously, I just have to wonder if emmajane would be quite this forceful in a face to face setting, or if her (I am guessing she is a woman) response were not anonymous. That seems worthy to note given that we’re talking about the lack of civility with anonymous forums like Yik Yak.

      Anyway, one thing I want to point out for non-EMU folks (which I presume is the case with emmajane) is the fact that this class was on a Friday morning was kind of a big deal because there are very very few classes at EMU on Fridays anymore. We used to have a MWF schedule, but now classes are basically Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday. So a Friday only class is sort of like a Saturday only class for most of our students.

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  11. I think Prof Allen, BN, Licorice, and Emmajune have made great points that I couldn’t improve on. So…. I guess I’m just wanting to add to those who are approaching this issue as if they are more concerned about the students than the professors in this case: Do you really think that seeing female professors called gendered pejoratives by classmates doesn’t affect female students in negative ways? As a possibly-soon-to-be grad student, I don’t think I’m alone in questioning how safe a space academia is for women.

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    • The discussion on the CHE page gets a bit more at some of the details of what was said. I noticed there have been at least two comments by folks who I assume were students in the class. I’ll link to both of them, but again, I’m not sure that will work so let me share those comments here too.

      The first is from someone named Shelby Hallenbeck:

      As one of the former fellows in this class, I can say that the yaks sampled here were pretty tame compared to some I had seen after the big “reveal”. I don’t want to go into detail at risk of accidentally identifying one of my colleagues, but regarding a few women, the appearance of several body parts became a hot topic of discussion. I quite honestly don’t know how the university should deal with this issue, but needless to say a lot of what happened went beyond your typical grumbling. My students, however, were overwhelmingly supportive and kind to me, especially when a few Yaks came in attacking me after I kicked out a student for yelling at me in class (because, of course, I asked him to stop going on Yik Yak in the middle of lecture), which leads me to believe that this was not 200+ students going online to attack once a week, but instead a select handful of horrible kids who flooded the app every Friday. Of course, I am biased, and as I said, I don’t know what the university should do, but I just wanted to give my impression of the environment during those few months as someone who was in the middle of it.

      To me, this kind of seems to get at the complexity of trying to sort out the event from the perspective of someone who was there in real time.

      This comment from Heavenly is quite a bit more crude:

      Daumer was never insulted… let me get that out there right now… everybody liked her and the only one that could have been considered an insult but was a weird compliment was someone said… “Dr. Daumer is like a boner in sweatpants… awkward, but still oddly accepted.” All the rests were compliments to her.

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  12. It would be ideal if sexual violence were addressed in a productive way throughout the curriculum; however, it isn’t. Not only that, some faculty members (who are primarily, but not exclusively, men) intimidate women students and publicly blame women for the violence they experience. Some make demeaning comments about women faculty in front of students. EMU is not a friendly place for women faculty, staff, or students (or for students who transgress gender norms). I don’t think it’s any more hostile than other universities, although I do think that some of the ways this hostility is manifested are unique. I also think the hostility remains under the surface most of the time. Incidents like this allow generally latent misogyny to surface.

    I have mixed feelings about requiring students to take one of a handful of classes to meet a requirement about sexual violence. On the one hand, I think it’s essential that all students learn about sexual and domestic violence (which disproportionately but not exclusive affects women and is disproportionately but not exclusively perpetrated by men) and about the cultural ideas that support it. The training done during first year programming is an essential part of a broader educational process, but cannot stand on it’s own. Such messages need to be reinforced and deepened in the curriculum. On the other hand, I want my general education classes to be free from overt hostility and intimidation. If they were required, there’d be much more hostility and therefore they’d have to change substantially. Occasionally, there is a hostile student in one section or another, but generally students self-select in ways that enable a complex learning. I fear this would no longer be the case if classes were required. Nonetheless, I think the potential benefits of such a requirement outweigh the risks for our campus and society in general. We need to transform the culture and education, inside and outside of classrooms, is the best way to do so.

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  13. I agree, BC. I don’t know if EMU is a place that is unusually hostile to women or not, but I do think that there’s a lot of weird issues about masculinity among not quite mature yet young college men that can manifest itself in some misogynistic discourse. I think a lot of that language is less about hate than it is about immaturity and ignorance, but it’s still wrong. And as someone who has a fair amount of experience teaching one of the few universally required courses in gen ed, first year writing, if you want to create a lot of ‘tude in students about a subject, require of it of all of them, regardless of their previous experience. (Though I have to say I do think it should be a required course; that’s another story).

    I also wanted to make two other points that kind of touch on the whole discussion so far. First off, let’s be clear about the issues of misogynistic media versus the medium being used to deliver it. I’m not defending the content of these posts or “Yaks” because they are obviously indefensible. But what I am saying is banning the medium of Yik Yak (or any other social media app) isn’t going to work. I’m sympathetic to the union’s and some of my colleague’s call for the administration to “do something about this!” But I also think the union and some of my colleagues are ill-informed about the nature of social media tools. And if there ever was a reason why all faculty need to learn about/educate themselves about emerging communication and publishing technologies– regardless of the content of their scholarship or teaching– this is it.

    Finally, the issue of “blame,” which I’ve seen raised in a couple of different posts. First off, I’m the messenger here; I didn’t write this CHE piece. When I was contacted by the reporter last week for comment on this article, I declined and referred him to this site. If you want to argue that there seems to be a tenor of blaming the professors and not the students in that article, post a comment to the article or perhaps email the reporter, Peter Schmidt.

    But beyond that, this is more complicated than simply assigning blame. No one deserves to be the target of a bunch of sexist and lewd comments online, and certainly not these professors. At the same time, I think professors and the union have handled the situation poorly.

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  14. I won’t repeat what others have written, as this thread includes many wonderful posts and respectful discussions. But one other angle if I may….I do not find it a coincidence that the professors in question also teach for WGST. Approximately 10 years ago and earlier, it was common for WGST professors to receive harassment in their courses. Students would enroll for the purpose of disrupting the class (this has all been documented across the country). This instance, to me, is also a situation of this type of harassment coming back in an anonymous form. I would not be surprised to see this in a T/Th 11 a.m. class. The day and time do not matter.

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    • I think the time and day thing for this situation matters mainly because it was discussed in some detail in the CHE article and in the comments about it. Sure, this could have happened during a T/Th class, but it didn’t.

      I do agree with you 100% that this kind of harassment is way WAY more likely to happen to teachers who are women than men, and I’d also say that it is more likely to happen to teachers who are younger too. In my experience, graduate assistants and part-timers– particularly women– are a whole lot more likely to get harassed by bad behaving students. I can’t think of an incident that’s happened to GAs or part-timers in our department (at least something I’ve heard of before), but I think it’s fair to say that the young women teaching courses like first year writing catch a lot more shit from students than the young men teaching these classes.

      The question remains what to do about this, how can the administration and the union agree on a policy that protects both students and faculty, and also a policy that is actually more workable than trying to “ban” social media tools.

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  15. What’s wrong with a 9 am class? Students start high school at 8 am and they’ll all probably work 8 to 5 if they graduate college. Students treat college like a vacation between the two and that a dozen hours of class per week is an outrageous expectation.

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  16. I hate to be the one to point this out, but the root cause of the confrontation seems to be an “experimental” course which was nevertheless made mandatory and which students whose intended areas of study apparently had nothing to do with the content of the course were forced to attend, presumably on pain of dismissal from the honors program.

    Traditionally students are expected to select their course schedules out of a variety of courses related to their major, with a small number of courses directly and universally related to the major required; you cannot expect to function as a math major without calculus, for example. Other courses are generally required by the state as part of all university degrees, and those courses are well-known to both students and professors; this is part of the normal agreement between the student and the university and the terms are spelled out in the degree plans.

    Presenting courses outside this structure, and making them mandatory for students regardless of their major, definitely constitutes university interference beyond what is normally accepted. That does not necessarily make it wrong or even improper. I had a similar course at the University of Houston, which ranged over a wide variety of philosophical works. In fact, it sounds very much like what this course intended to be. We had a weekly session of lecture (one hour only) and a couple of class meetings per week in a much smaller classroom setting; also, we did not have teaching assistants, and each of the instructors of those settings were full professors. I felt that it was a successful class and am happy to have taken it, and I cannot say that about every course which I enrolled in.

    But when you impinge on an area of traditional student autonomy, you assume a heavy burden of responsibility. Though professors usually have great flexibility of what material will be covered in their courses (and some are… not slow to push the boundaries of that to the point of abuse), this sort of environment is a very, very bad place to ramble. It is a very bad place to hold forth on topics outside the course’s purview. It is a very bad place to hold forth on topics outside the professor’s specific area of expertise. Rambling on topics both outside the course’s purview and outside the professor’s area of expertise is ordinarily something that should be frowned on, but in cases like this, it’s unconscionable.

    So the power dynamic here isn’t really being addressed. Yes, yes, of course calling a lady vulgar things because you’re unhappy with her is crude, boorish, and unacceptable; it should not happen even in an anonymous forum. However, can you really look at it outside the power dynamics of the situation? The students who were mandated to take this “experimental” course were clearly unhappy to be there, clearly unhappy with the content of the course, clearly unhappy with the quality of the instruction (and, if what is being reported about the content of the course is accurate, not without merit). Yet they have absolutely no meaningful form of redress – the university has their money, and won’t be refunding that money, and the course is mandatory; if they’re dissatisfied with it, what actual recourse do they have, short of storming off and quitting the honors program altogether, along with losing their tuition? Viewed through that lens, focusing on the tone of their complaints is quite peevish – you put young men and women in that kind of situation and now you want to punish them for complaining about it?

    I find it instructive that the potential solutions I see floated elsewhere in the comment thread involve including unrelated content in other courses, or adding yet another mandatory course to add (presumably on top of this one, though it would seem that this course is already a dead letter; I suspect not to be lamented.) So you’re going to take a situation where people are unhappy about being mandated to show up (indeed, to pay large sums of money; I don’t see anything about these courses being free!) in order to have the privilege of being educated about sexual violence, in response to an incident containing no actual sexual violence (presumably? I would be surprised for the discussion to have advanced this far without such a detail having been reported.)

    Does this have a scent of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” to anyone else?

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  17. Avatar | February 3, 2015 at 12:48 am
    “Does this have a scent of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” to anyone else?”

    Absolutely. I find it rich that the same generation which gave us ‘hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go’ now demands students ‘respect my authoritah’ in these kinds of mandatory re-education camps.

    Is the criticism crude? Yes; it shouldn’t be a revelation that sophomores do sophomoric things. But there is an undercurrent of Rodney Dangerfield in ‘Back to School’ here — if the prof is being accused of knowing only the upper-class, New York Times-reading academic party line (‘yo white ass probably ain’t never been in Detroit’), the failure is not entirely on the students.

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  18. I was a student fellow in the class. I have refrained from saying anything public as long as I thought this was a private issue. However, the article in CHE, etc… shows that it is not private any longer.

    I’d like to point out that this was an experimental format and experimental class. While there were issues with the class (as with any new course), I feel that they could have been fixed. Most of the freshmen WERE unhappy with the class. However, while I do understand most of their (the freshmen) reasons, and agree with some of them, I don’t think the course should have been abandoned. As I told my students, in college you have to take a lot of courses you don’t like and/or at times you don’t want; get used to it. I do believe that if the course had continued, the students would have come around, and it would be an experience that united the Honors College. I have a lot more I’d like to say, but instead, I will post the comment that I also left on the CHE page for the article.

    “I was one of the student fellows in this course. There is some misinformation in this article.

    First of all, all three professors have Ph.D.s and should have been referred to in the article as Dr. or Professor, not Ms. That’s especially egregious in a periodical such as this.

    Second of all, the yaks were revealed in the middle of class. The layout was 50 mins altogether in the lecture hall, then 50 mins in breakout groups with Fellows, then 50 mins in the main lecture hall. The professors were informed after the first session. They had the GA finish the third portion of the class.

    There is a very low probability that there were hundreds of yaks. The incident is from one day of yaks. From my experience with the class, there were very few students actually using the application relative to the total, and even fewer making the inappropriate comments. Also, the Fellows are being accused of, and have been repeatedly berated for, participating in making harassing comments, with very little evidence. As others have noted, it’s possible for anyone to say they are anyone.

    Thirdly, the University did look into the issue. The Fellows were contacted by the Office of Student Conduct after the semester ended but before finals started. I was informed that the police had been contacted and found no evidence that anything illegal was said. The Conduct Office found no evidence that anyone violated the Code of Conduct. However, all agreed the the comments were inappropriate and disrespectful.

    I think it is terrible that everyone is painting the situation with such a broad brush. It was NOT all of the students. It was NOT a full semester of harassment. The large lecture hall was NOT out of control. For people to judge everyone associated with this class, to judge our entire Honors College on the basis of one article, is shameful. I was, and am, personally proud of all my students. I will also vouch for all the Fellows as generally decent and upstanding individuals.

    My impression is that there were a lot of issues that came to a head with the incident. The primary one being that female faculty at EMU have felt for a long time that there are issues with sexual harassment on campus and felt that the administration has been unresponsive. That is unacceptable. As I told my group, everyone deserves to feel safe in their place of work. But if the root of the issue is sexual harassment on campus in general, the faculty and administration ought to be dealing with that directly, rather than scapegoating ~230 students.

    As I told the professors and the Conduct Office, Yik Yak is a symptom, not the cause. Many students grew up with social media, while most faculty did not. There is a culture gap. People are growing up now being much more open and casual on the web. Additionally, first semester freshmen are 17 or 18 years old. They are still learning how to comport themselves. Some of them don’t understand what harassment is or the consequences of their actions. Some of them know what it means, and don’t think there are consequences to their actions. Cyberbullying, or bullying/harassment in general, will continue even if the medium changes.

    We had the opportunity for a teachable moment. We could have, and still can, have a campus-wide anti-cyberbullying campaign. We can have a campaign about harassment, power dynamics, and privilege. We can work towards a campus culture where harassment is not tolerated, and incidents are dealt with swiftly and appropriately.

    But there needs to be a wider discourse about the differences among freedom of speech, harassment, and general civility. And that requires people to be open-minded, willing to be vulnerable and listen, to be able to deal with nuance and operate in grey areas.

    But until and unless this happens, the incident, the course, and all the people involved remain tainted.”

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    • There may not have been hundreds of ‘harassing’ Yaks, or hundreds of Yaks that day, but there were definitely hundreds of Yaks about that course. I know because I would watch them on my phone on Fridays. Most of them were general nonsense, and complaining about the course. Nothing I saw warranted sexual harassment, but I was late to the show the day of ‘the incident’. I only learned of it because of all of the Yaks that took place after the fact, where it was described in pretty good detail.

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    • Thanks so much for posting this, Lois. Your account is very similar to ones I heard from my honors students who were enrolled in the course at the time. Your comments, which carefully acknowledge various points of view and call for further dialogue, are yet more evidence of what terrific, thoughtful students we have here at EMU. By being involved in this on-going discussion (and taking the risk of speaking out in a public forum like this one) you are already helping the campus community to work through these issues. I too would like to see more campus-wide discussions about these topics and agree that there is still time to turn the incident into productive educational opportunities.

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    • I find it “chilling” that someone in your position would look at a mandatory course on domestic/sexual violence, as well as the other issues of gender power dynamics and professionalism discussed for such a course as a negative thing.

      First, college is supposed to be a place where you are exposed to new ideas that might challenge you. If we have to take a science class that has nothing to do with our career path to “enrich” ourselves, I fail to see what’s so offensive about a basic WGST course. It has been an academic discipline in most universities for decades, and even if you don’t see it as important, I think that the lessons of the discipline are worthy of being aware of if only to be well-rounded people. You don’t have to buy into what you’re being taught, you just have to be aware of it so that for example, you don’t call your boss a cunt when you graduate.

      Second, the school has an interest in teaching every student about sexual violence, even if it is just part of orientation. We are not teaching students about consent in high school. That’s why sexual assault is an issue on college campuses. I don’t care if you think that sexual assault is really just a bunch of “feminazis” who need to cover their drinks at parties and those poor college boys are getting kicked out over regrets. The fact is, the school has a responsibility to say, “Hey, if someone is too drunk to consent to sex, don’t have sex with that person. That is a bad idea,” because some people don’t understand that. If you want to call that a re-education camp, whatever. I think it’s important. It protects everyone from misunderstandings.

      Third, this Yik Yak episode has demonstrated that the kinds of students EMU is bringing in don’t understand how to treat others in a professional environment. That is a problem. It’s a problem for your colleagues, and they deserve your support. It’s a problem for EMU’s reputation, too- who’s going to hire an EMU grad if the last one called his boss a cunt on Twitter and got fired? The students are clearly not perceptive enough to understand 1) their remarks are inappropriate; 2) WHY their remarks are inappropriate; 3) their remarks are public; and 4) their remarks reflect poorly on everyone.

      Finally, my natural response to your negative perception of such a course would be to suggest that it include opinions on both ends of the spectrum. But I fail to see how the things such a class would cover would even be negotiable. Like, “Hey, you shouldn’t call your professor a cunt, but counterpoint, yes, it’s totes okay to be unprofessional and sexist! Look at all the successful white men who treat women like garbage- they turned out okay!” “Raping people is bad, but counterpoint, you’re probably asking to be raped if you go to a party in college.” Like, no. These are basic lessons of how to behave like a human being that apparently these students have missed. I don’t see introducing these ideas to them as some sort of oppressive dystopian nightmare.

      I understand that we come from very different ideological places, but I would hope that you would understand why this Yik Yak situation demonstrates a need for some serious work on professionalism- if not for the good of the professors, than at least for the reputation of our graduates.

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      • A colleague/friend has told me that I must clarify my position on the discipline of Women/Gender Studies because someone out there is going to decide that I am a sexist/bigot based on no evidence what-so-ever. I said, no way is anyone that stupid. She said yes, way. She said, you have to because you are not anonymous on emutalk.

        So, WGST. I’ve read about 10 academic articles (i.e., not for the general public, in scholarly journals or published in scholarly collections) total on the subject — probably somewhat above average for an academic in a completely unrelated field, especially considering how far the WGST field is from my natural interests: science, math, engineering, history, literature, music. I have next to no interest in political science, sociology and only a tiny interest in economics and philosophy. Why so few articles (and 10 articles, even though carefully chosen, is only a few)? Answer: There are only so many hours in the day. One must draw the line somewhere. I’ll also never be a scratch golfer. Nor a fly-fisherman. Nor able to play the saxophone.

        The articles were not chosen at ransom. I considered the abstract and title before committing a couple hours to the article. After reading, mostly disappointment. A few articles were trash. Most were banal. Two were mind-opening, incredibly insightful and interesting. I avoid articles based on sociological methods because of how the data is tortured — I should say, that in approximately three sociology-oriented articles, the data analysis was simple crap. I avoid those based on cultural anthropology approaches, because, 30 years later, I’m *still* feeling burned by Margaret Mead. I was deeply impressed by an article in the context of ancient history (Athens/Sparta) and another two in the context of great literature (Penelope, Helen, et al. (Odyssey) and on Gertrude (Shakespeare)).

        I think WGST circumscribed by the geographic USA and 20/21 Century is boring (too narrow) and don’t bother with it anymore (eight crappy/trite articles was enough). Someone, somewhere probably finds it interesting — there are probably decent articles on the subject … somewhere. Stretched to the Western Hemisphere, it becomes a little more interesting. Beyond to Africa, Near East, Caucasus, Levant, greater Asia or back in time up to and including the industrial age, it becomes interesting enough to give a couple hours to a good article. Post-colonial and/or Marxist analysis/perspective is trite and predictable — no insight there.

        YMMV. But I repeat that ideology is *irrelevant* to a discussion of the merits of a mandatory course on gender violence/harassment/hurtful words. The same goes for my personal take. My personal take is my personal take and has nothing to do with anything under discussion here.

        P.S. For those one or two out there who might be interested in my opinions and the actual articles I read, I’ll consider tracking them down and talking them over with you AFTER we have a discussion on approximate methods in artificial intelligence. I have a couple articles for your consideration. You first!

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  19. “First, college is supposed to be a place where you are exposed to new ideas that might challenge you.”

    Ironic that the professor’s blog criticism was about a student being ordered by his teacher not to expose other students to a challenge to the rationale for SSM. It is willful denial to pretend that today’s incoming freshmen have not marinated for 18 years in a pop culture and academic context that portrays same-sex sexual behavior as a positive good, and opposition to same as mere bigotry. A majority of students arriving at college can be expected to support SSM, without ever having been confronted with reasoned arguments against it.

    “Second … That’s why sexual assault is an issue on college campuses.”

    In terms of verified crime statistics, sexual assault is not an issue. The bogus ‘1-in-5’ statistic represents a rate of assault greater than what exists in the worst urban ganglands, and the fact parents encourage their daughters to attend colleges indicates that none of them really believe it. No; the current brouhaha is almost entirely political in nature. It is part of the Left’s current attempt to mandate that intoxication absolves females of responsibility for their own sexual behavior, but does not similarly absolve males in the same situation of apparently-consensual sexual encounters. Assaults can and do occur, but universities have no business accepting post-hoc regret as ‘proof’ of assault, nor of shifting the burden of proof to the accused. It is most dismaying that you insinuate in bad faith that anyone criticizing the gender-studies establishment on these issues is sexist, even pro-rape.

    You have a valid point to make with respect to teaching professional courtesy, but that is a separate issue from gender studies and one not requiring of a semester-long course.

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  20. (1) Social engineering has no place in a university.

    (2) 18 year olds, adults, are perfectly aware that violence is proscribed, and that harassment and general dickishness are not acceptable public behavior.

    (3) If I were an incoming student or the parent/guardian of one, I would not choose a school where tuition, fees and time were required for the proposed content.

    (4) Ideology is irrelevant as support for an argument.

    (5) The person who gets emotional, loses.

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  21. I don’t have an issue with some sort of orientation that addresses such issues. (Keeping in mind that you’ll have some students who are nontraditional and for whom demands on their time are a bigger imposition than those who live on campus, you might want to restrict making such an orientation mandatory only to those students who do live on campus.)

    That said, making it a mandatory course is a much larger issue. Not only are you requiring students to attend, but also to pay a considerable sum of money – unless you’re proposing that this course should be offered for free? Are we talking a course for credit? Given that you don’t have the luxury of expanding the number of credit hours required for a degree, where is the instructional time to be reduced? Which engineering courses shall be foregone so that the engineers can receive instruction on gender dynamics? What courses on teaching do our teachers not actually need, that we can pare down their instruction in order to accommodate instruction on sexual harassment?

    Your proposal infringes not only on the traditional autonomy of students to choose their own curriculum within the bounds of their discipline’s offerings, but also upon the other colleges in that you’re insisting that you should be allowed to write a course requirement into their degree plans. That is… not a good combination to take on, friend.

    If the issue is that certain students have attitudes that make them unfit for attendance at your university, then by all means, do not admit them. But admitting them, and then running the entire student body through the mill in order to attempt to polish the turds, is a colossal waste for everyone involved. And, not to put too fine a point on it, do you imagine that it will actually work?

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    • Well, you could make a pretty good argument that general education as a whole infringes on the autonomy of students to choose their own curriculum. Really, this tension has always existed in the modern university. We don’t let students just “take what they want” and then, after they take a certain number of classes, say they have a degree. They have to take the right courses as determined by faculty in different disciplines. There has always been required courses for gen ed, for different majors, etc., and part of what students are “paying” for is taking a specific curriculum of courses.

      And if you broadly apply the logic of the the “social engineering” and “thought police” arguments, then you’re talking about organized “education” generally.

      But I digress.

      Besides the logistic problems of changing/adding a component of the general education program to include a requirement for a course along these lines, I guess I have to wonder if it really would be effective particularly in combating the kind of harassment that happened in this Yik Yak incident. I don’t know this for sure of course, but I would be very very surprised if it turned out that the folks calling their teachers “bitches” or what-have-you on Yik Yak thought that was perfectly appropriate. In other words, the abusers knew they were being abusive, and that being the case, I’m not sure “educating” them would do a whole lot of good.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think misogyny is a real problem and I think talking about it in a variety of forums is important. If this conversation has proved anything it’s that there are a lot of people who indeed want to talk about it. I’m just not confident that a required course automatically constitutes a solution.

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  22. Perhaps the most important first step is to address attitudes within the faculty that allow gendered abuse of their colleagues to continue. Go ahead and call me the thought police, but I don’t know how we’re supposed to expect the students to take whatever messaging they receive about what proper behavior in the university setting is and why when WOMEN on the faculty dismiss WGST as a “reeducation camp” and “crappy” “boring” and “trite.” It is beyond me how anyone could think it is appropriate in a professional setting to be so dismissive of your colleagues’ specialty.

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    • ‘Gendered abuse’?? So now women faculty are not permitted to disagree professionally about the content and/or worth of WGST? Your complaint only proves that WGST is indeed a re-education camp, complete with accusations of ‘false consciousness’ and ‘class traitors’.

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  23. Um, yes, calling a female professor “cunt” or “bitch” is gendered abuse. It just is. And unless you’d really like to argue that female professors are inferior, study after study shows that female professors get a lot more shit from students, even controlling for department.

    There are a lot of lessons to be learned from WGST, and although you are clearly eager to jump on any opportunity to criticize the discipline, it is no different from any other academic discipline that we require students to be exposed to in their gen eds for the sake of being well-rounded people.

    My indigence about Professor Haynes calling 80% of WGST “crappy” was that it is unsupportive to her colleagues, but specifically shocking because, as a woman, surely she or women she knows have lived experiences that WGST addresses in a scholarly way that is of value to educate students about. I could understand a man dismissing WGST as “crappy” and “trite” because it is easy to think in good faith that there is no need for women’s movements or educating students on the history of women’s movements and gender discrimination as a man who has never seen gender discrimination for himself, but a woman has literally no excuse. If Professor Haynes honestly believes that WGST is 80% “crappy” and “trite,” she has some serious blinders on. I don’t see the harm in exposing people, some of whom surely think like her, to divergent ideas. It is irresponsible for an academic institution to offer a gen ed program that doesn’t address the issues that WGST is concerned with in some way.

    I appreciate that people of a certain ideology see WGST as useless as a discipline, but I’d be surprised to hear the same response from someone who took a handful of WGST classes. There is room for disagreement and intellectual discourse in these courses and no one in my time at EMU ever once tried to shut down an idea outside of the mainstream of WGST. It’s about exposing people to new ideas, not forcing a set of beliefs on people. I mean, okay, would part of the idea be to introduce the concept of not calling female professors “cunts” be part of that? Yes. I don’t see any problem with that.

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  24. Letting ‘ideology’ direct one’s intellectual life, as Waldo and Kait and others appear to do, is a very bad idea. It corrupts the principles of free inquiry, ruins open discourse.

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  25. It is the responsibility of the department head to be sure that a class is meaningful, legitimate, and of the highest caliber. Students education is not an experimental lab for a required class. While I do not condone the language used, all of you have missed the point and taken it out of context. Do not confuse absolute disgust and complete annoyance with sexual harassment. That is a disservice to those that have lived through real harassment. If non-profane words have been used I doubt this would have ever seen any press. There are many ways I could have express my displeasure with this ridiculous class but then I am from a different generation. Profanity which my 70+ year old parents would never have considered even thinking of saying, words which I would have had to suck on soap for, have now become common place to express deep personal feelings of displeasure with a situation often separated from the real source but yet instead directed at the immediate source of the issue. Have you listened to the popular music of the day? This generation has a much different definition of the meaning of profane words than even one generation back. It is about the words feeling not meaning. Put on your big girl pants. This is a generation that has grown up with technology that requires ultimate concise thought at the fastest speed. Texting that completes your thought for you. Tweets that are limited to little more than bullet points plus emoji style conversations. It is all about time, efficiency, and the “now”. For their lack of literary eloquence, this generation of college students are more worldly aware than any other generation, are able to identify junk when they see it, and will spend very little of their precious time attended to a poorly designed and prepared or what they consider worthless curriculum. Quite frankly this was activism but not their father’s activism. This generation does not care to go to that level of coordination. This is not the ’60s. This was “Flash Activism”

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  26. The yaks did not disrupt class. No one knew until a fellow told the faculty. It was just a bunch of kids blowing off steam in an environment that they felt was ‘student space’. It was exacerbated by the fact that all the yaks were 179 for about 2 hrs. If the fellow hadn’t told, they’d never have known. We bitch about professors all the time, just like our bosses, our parents, our friends. Publicly, with our names attached. Yik Yak just happens to be an anon forum. Language doesn’t mean the same thing across generations. Girls call each other bitches. Conversations are littered with swear words and groups are always ‘reclaiming’ words. The situation was blown completely out of proportion due to understandable emotion. But before that the faculty weren’t really open to any kind of feedback from students. Also, I don’t see why having the opinion that wgst classes are crappy is so horrendous coming from a woman. Free speech right? And really, the people who take them are the ones who know it’s important. The ones who should take them, don’t. Also, there’s a difference between supporting your colleagues and turning a blind eye to the negatives in job performance. That’s like saying a real patriot doesn’t criticize the government.

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