College Hal 134

College Hall room 134 was empty at 5 p.m. on Nov. 19 despite claims by users on Yik Yak that a meeting would be held there for supporters of Kyle Rittenhouse. 

Yik Yak has resurfaced on college campuses across America in recent months because it gives students a forum space with the addition of anonymity. Gonzaga students have followed along with this trend, and often use the local Yik Yak channel to banter about things going on at GU or around Spokane. 

However, the local discussion boards around campus took a sudden turn on Nov. 19 after news from Kenosha, Wisconsin made national headlines. That day, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all counts relating to when he killed two people and injured another while riots and protests were going on in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake. 

In the hours that soon followed the trial’s verdict, the GU Yik Yak channel became populated by posts discussing the trial and the sentiments of the account users. A succession of posts ridiculed people who opposed the verdict and also made derogatory remarks toward people of color and the LGBTQ plus community. 

Given the functions of Yik Yak, it is difficult to discern how many different accounts were making these posts, or whether they were actually being made by students. 

“I think these comments that are racist, homophobic and just downright nasty on Yik Yak are terribly inappropriate. And I do think that they’re antithetical to our values,” said Kent Porterfield, vice provost of student affairs. “Frankly, it sends me and frustrates and angers me that those kinds of comments are being made in our community that clearly do not reflect the mission of the university or anyone’s sense of humanity.”

Posts then began to promote meeting times and places on campus for people in support of the trial’s decision to gather in order to, as one post put it, “continue to grow the red community.” 

The first proposal for a 3:15 p.m. meeting on Herak lawn that day didn’t gather any number of supporters or detractors. Soon after that time however, another two posts came out on Yik Yak calling for a 5 p.m. meeting that day in College Hall room 134.

“The BSU group chat had made us aware of the situation of some Gonzaga members who were choosing to rally and meet up in response to the verdict, which honestly, is so confusing,” said Jackie Gaither, president of GU Black Student Union. “That was really a good place to show that we’re never as safe as Gonzaga makes it seem to be as students of color or as Black students on this campus. And as president... I had to react appropriately; I had to react fast.”

Gaither said she called GU Campus Security & Public Security (CSPS) and Phillip Tyler, crime prevention and education officer, to make them aware of what was going on while also checking on the BSU club members to make sure they were safe and aware of what was transpiring. 

CSPS told Gaither that they would look into the situation on social media and have officers surveying the vicinity around College Hall. 

When The Gonzaga Bulletin staff went to cover the situation in College Hall at the proposed meeting time, room 134 was vacant apart from a single CSPS officer patrolling near the room. 

“If CSPS is paying attention to that [situation], they’re doing that from a perspective of maintaining public safety,” Porterfield said. “They’re more concerned about everybody feeling safe, and you can imagine their strong feeling so, you know, gatherings like that can turn into conflicts.

Gaither also sent an email to Porterfield before 5 p.m. with screenshots to keep him in the loop about what was going on. Porterfield said he first became aware of the discourse happening on Yik Yak around 2:30 p.m. when students began sending him screenshots and expressing concern about not feeling safe. He got into contact with Gaither to first ask if any individual students were in harm and then asked what general needs students were looking for. 

Gaither said she told Porterfield that she wants the university to make Black students feel heard and safe.

“At the end of the email, I said, ‘it is truly disappointing that the actions of this case, and what came of it, are affecting the safety of students on our campus and our Black students,’” Gaither said. “That is the big thing about what happened is that this verdict shouldn’t have [further] affected Black students, because they’re already going through something by hearing this verdict. And then you have Gonzaga students who are wanting to rally to make Gonzaga more red — this makes no sense.”

No gatherings of purported Rittenhouse supporters occured after the two promoted meetings on the 19th. Another proposed gathering for “Gonzaga patriots” was shouted out on Yik Yak on Nov. 20 outside of the John J. Hemmingson Center at 5 p.m. All three gatherings went unattended. 

Following the discourse on Yik Yak over those two days, GU College Republicans (GUCR) said in a statement to the Bulletin the club does not endorse any rhetoric, meetings, gatherings or messaging that is not directly issued by the club. 

“Yik Yak is not and never has been a means for GUCR members, officers or affiliates to communicate in any way, and therefore GUCR has no knowledge of or affiliation to any comments being made on such a platform,” the statement said. “Additionally, our club has a long precedent of not commenting on major national news stories, the purpose of our organization is to educate and discuss current events from a variety of different perspectives, but not comment publicly on matters not directly related to GUCR or its members.”

A joint email from Porterfield and Chief Diversity Officer Robin Kelley on Nov. 22 addressed the uneasiness on campus in the wake of the Rittenhouse trial and the trial of Gregory and Travis McMichael and William Bryan, which, at the time, was still ongoing. They said that the hateful comments on specifically Yik Yak have made community members feel unsafe in recent weeks, and Porterfield and Kelley encourage that conversations about divisive topics happen in a respectful and safe manner.

BSU has been working for months to build a BSU task force of students to help promote to administrators initiatives on campus that would help Black students feel heard and safe.

The task force’s current objective is to get administration to require faculty to learn about filling out BIAS reports and for the school to then use those to take action. However, following the Rittenhouse trial, Gaither said the task force is considering bringing the idea of constructive conversations about controversial social issues to the forefront of its agenda. 

"I think Yik Yak allows cowards to thrive because if you can’t put your name on it you shouldn’t be saying it,” Gaither said. “But, this app is allowing people to say whatever hurtful things and not have to put their name on it… In terms of our mission statement, there’s literally a section that talks about cultural competency, inclusion and community.

“So, when you have stuff like this — words like ‘make Gonzaga red again,’ and hateful slurs and hateful language — that’s not in support of our mission statement," Gaither said.

Asher Ali is the editor in chief. Follow him on Twitter: @asher_ali3.

Diversity Editor

Major: Journalism / International Relations Because the ability to tell other people's stories within such a passionate community like GU's is an opportunity unlike any other.