After seeing what he called “deeply disturbing and offensive” posts on an anonymous social media platform, Tulane University’s president called Friday for a show of campus unity and an increased focus on supporting African-American students and other groups that are under-represented at the school.
In an email to students, staff and faculty, President Michael Fitts denounced posts on Yik Yak that he said have tested the values of “diversity, inclusivity and respect for all of our students, faculty and staff.”
“Many of these statements, purportedly made by Tulane students, are deeply disturbing and offensive,” Fitts said. “The Constitution protects free speech, but conscience demands a reply to words that run so counter to the core values of Tulane — a university community that seeks, supports and celebrates diversity and difference.”
Fitts’ email and the comments that led to it come as protests at college campuses, including the University of Missouri and Yale University, have focused on racism and other issues faced by minority students at majority-white colleges.
Racist comments posted to Yik Yak were one of the sparks for the Missouri protests. Following the resignation of the school’s president on Monday, the site also was used by at least two people to post threats against minority students and faculty at the university.
Yik Yak is a social media platform that allows its users to make anonymous posts that others in the same geographic area can see and respond to. The service, which has been compared to an anonymous bulletin board, has gained popularity among college students.
Tulane Vice President for Student Affairs Dusty Porter said Friday that Fitts’ email was in response to a series of posts that were brought to Porter’s attention by students Thursday.
It’s not clear which specific posts he saw. Porter referred to them as “statements and language related to racial differences,” though he said they didn’t include racial epithets. He said neither he nor Tulane Police Superintendent John Barnwell believed they should be seen as threats.
But, he said, the posts were racially offensive.
“I think the postings are concerning; they’re worrisome. The response you’ve seen from the president speaks to that,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Yik Yak has been an issue at Tulane.
A website was set up in July to document racist posts from Yik Yak users at Tulane.
Screenshots posted there include offensive comments about a variety of minority groups.
Last month, 20-year-old University of New Orleans student Alexander Knecht was booked on a single count of terrorizing after being accused of posting on Yik Yak that he wanted to see Tulane students massacred and “to see a bunch of undeserving kids get killed.”
Tulane police tracked down Knecht after contacting Yik Yak’s legal team, which turned over information on his location, Internet Protocol address and phone number. While the threats were not deemed to be credible, they did violate the law, police said at the time.
A task force dealing with the undergraduate experience at the university has been meeting throughout the year, with a particular focus on providing “support and services” to minority students at a school where 80 percent of the students are white, Porter said.
Among the strategies being considered are working harder to recruit and retain a more diverse student body and increasing the funds available for financial aid, he said.
More immediately, Fitts has organized a Call for Unity rally at the school’s Pocket Park at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and he will hold a town hall meeting at the beginning of the spring semester.
“In my conversations with students, I have heard the frustration that many of our underrepresented students, particularly African-Americans, feel both in the classroom as well as across campuses,” Fitts wrote. “These same issues are expressed by the student body as a whole and were highlighted in the recommendations recently submitted by the Undergraduate Experience Task Force.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.