Yaks and Sherpas

Last week, I was in Miami picking up one of the offspring from college. A native Texan, I have trouble settling into the cool, frantic culture of south Florida.

Sitting on a deserted patio of the student union sipping an iced coffee, I finally relaxed. The quiet of the campus calmed me. I had time to slow and consider. The school has been good to my son and my family. I have seen him change and grow as he pursues his bliss (stealing Campbell’s turn of phrase).

Comforted, I opened Yik Yak to snoop.

For those unfamiliar with the program—and that includes most of us who are not undergrads—it is a social media app that limits open messaging to a location or, more recently, a home base. “A live feed of what everyone’s saying around you.”

The discussions are unfiltered, vulgar, licentious, sophomoric, and often hilarious. They are also empathetic and compassionate. The students encourage one another, guide, share, and even admonish.  The posts provide an insight into the life of the campus, giving—excuse the cliché—the pulse of the campus.

The Yaks shook me from my pastoral musings. Apparently a student had committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide. The postings were angry, confused, questioning, accusatory. The messages were afraid.

It was a harsh reminder of the uncertainty of undergrad. The fragile veneers of flippant audacity, well-groomed bravado, and rebellion camouflage the vulnerability.   Faculty stumble onto this abiding uncertainty; however, it is something that is easy to forget, overlook.

Yik Yak could be a powerful, responsive tool for a college—providing counselors, advisors, and administrators with an insight into the needs of the students. Workshops, seminars, interventions could be introduced based on threads.

When I first saw Yik Yak and read the postings, I discussed this idea with an administrator and Robert W. Robert pointed out that the app is relevant because it is unregulated and unmonitored; students would move elsewhere. The herd–as the Yaks call themselves–would disperse.

But it seemed to me, sitting there watching the Ibis chase lizards through the manicured lawns, that quietly and unobtrusively monitoring the herd is not a bad role for sherpas to assume.The Campus

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