Adventures in Podcasting

Woman Listening Music Media Entertainment Relaxation Concept

Last fall, I started a new creative adventure – a podcast. I began to lack an interest in blogging and my audience of readers and followers seemed to long for something more too. As an educator, I knew I still wanted to create and share content – so I went out exploring other options: YouTube, live streaming, and podcasting were my top picks.

YouTube felt super intimidating to pursue. I was already helping my partner with his live streaming show, which was encountering lots of challenges. Then, after deciding those options may not be a fit, I finally started listening to podcasts. Yes, that’s right – I was NOT an early adopter of podcasts. Not even close. Even after being a guest on four shows, I kind of resisted them.

According to the Pew Research Center report, since 2013, US monthly podcast listeners have grown from 12% to 21%. While this number has doubled, it still leaves out 79% of the US population. However, when looking at those that have ever listened to a podcast, this rises to 36%. The research credits this increase to the accessibility to mobile devices and high-speed internet. Libsyn is a hosting platform that eases podcasters’ distribution of content out to places like iTunes, Google Play, Stitch and more. In 2015, Libsyn reported download numbers have doubled since 2012. Part of this gain in popularity is due to the number of podcasts doubled since 2012 (12,000 in 2012 to 28,000 in 2015). Learn more about the survey results here.

The Imposters Podcast

The primary reason I finally started listening to podcasts was because I finally knew people producing them. Enter The Imposters Podcast. Amma Marfo, Becca Fick, Mallory Bower and Sue Caulfield. Pause please, and go subscribe.

Now enter my podcast – Josie and the Podcast. This title is the result of crowd-sourcing name suggestions, hundreds of Google searches for “How do you…”, dozens of YouTube tutorials, purchases from Amazon including a larger hard drive, Blue Yeti microphone, three software programs – and, let’s be honest, a lot of freaking time.

josie-itunesSo far I’ve produce ten episodes – featuring campus leaders and new media pioneers who are digital influencers and innovators. From Senior Vice Presidents on Snapchat to YouTubers receiving billions of views, all interviews are through the lens of social media and leadership. The project has truly been an adventure – attempting to learn how to podcast through the highs and lows of experimentation and exploration.

The latest podcast episode features one of the creators of The Imposters – Amma Marfo. We hope you’ll check it out! Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher & Google Play!

Since releasing my first episode, I’ve lost track of the number of colleagues, friends, and family that have asked me about how to start a podcast. At first. I was l like – “Well, I don’t know, I’m still figuring that out!” I also get asked a lot about the higher education/student affairs podcasts people should follow. So, I’m going to list out everything I use and a list of shows you might want to check out. Next, I’m putting some other higher education professionals on the spot who I believe SHOULD be producing a podcast – even if it isn’t entirely about education. And then finally a few resources.

My equipment

**Some of this equipment was from recommendations, others trial and error.

Podcasts for Your Playlist

**Not necessarily all about higher ed – these may also be heavy on the tech side

—Please comment below to suggest others to add! Are you podcasting – please let us know!

Who SHOULD be podcasting

**When I think about a handful of higher ed professionals who are amazing storytellers, leaders and content creators  – these are a few names that come to mind. This is in NO way exhaustive and I would love to hear from you who else should be podcasting in Higher Ed! Please also keep in mind this is just my humble opinion, not representative of the entire Digital Leadership Network.

—Who do you want to ‘hear’ podcasting in 2017??

Helpful tutorials and articles to get started:

**A number of these were passed on to me, a few more are resources I’ve collected through my podcasting adventures.

Win-Win-Win: Conflict, Power, and Privilege (Part 2)

Picture courtesy of

In our last blog, we discussed three different strategies for conflict resolution:

  • Win-Win (We both win)
  • Win-Lose (I win, and you lose)
  • Lose-Lose (I lose, but I take you down with me)

Feel free to read the article if you haven’t already.  Today, I want to engage in conflict resolution through a lens of equality and inclusion that seeks to dismantle power and privilege.

Because employing one of the three strategies above isn’t always about caring about the other person, it is sometimes about getting needs met and protecting ones’ humanity.  Looking at the strategies above from a place that assumes everyone has equal power and privilege, my previous blog makes sense.  But we don’t live in a vacuum.  We live in the world (and in a field) today, which is steeped in systems designed to keep power and privilege in comfort for those who have it.

As a white, cisgender, heterosexual man, I have the privilege to find spaces where people will approach me from a default win-win conflict resolution strategy. On social media, although the default is sometimes win-lose, people are quick to give me the benefit of the doubt because my profile picture presents me as white.  My profile also makes it easy to see I am married (to a person who presents as a woman) with five children – all children who present as female.  Because I generally have privileged identities, I can choose not to worry about how my different identities are playing out.  My identities give me the advantage of “winning” because people make assumptions that are generally positive.  They also assume I am engaged in win-win conflict strategy even when I may not be.

Those with marginalized identities engaged in online conversations don’t always have this advantage.  At “best” (and this is like saying earwax jelly beans are better than vomit jelly beans for you Harry Potter fans) when we can’t see certain identities, assumptions get made to erase those marginalized identities (for example; assuming someone’s gender or sexual identity).  At worst when we CAN see someone’s marginalized identity (for example; the color of their skin or someone who has pictures of them always in a wheel chair) assumptions get made as to the approach they will take in a conflict (this presents itself with internal dialogue for those with privileges – “obviously, that individual is using a win-lose strategy here because they are only looking out for their identities and ignoring what might be in MY best interests”).  All of these assumptions are made in a split second, and often times before the person we are engaging with has a chance to write something because we look at their profile picture. When we read a comment from someone who presents differently than ourselves this is the lens (in many cases – not all) we use at least initially.

Given this dynamic, I would understand being exhausted and angry if people made these assumptions about me.  I would understand defaulting to win-lose strategies of conflict if I was constantly under attack and being oppressed in online spaces.  Especially when the entire system (including higher Ed and student affairs) is set up as a win-lose system in many ways for marginalized identities.  If my boss is engaged in win-lose strategies of conflict resolution with me, I’m kind of at a loss.  Power is everything, and we need to understand this, ESPECIALLY when discussing conflict resolution.

In conclusion, as I reflect on my privilege and power, it is important to add one more dimension to this conflict resolution repertoire: looking for lose-win strategies because of my identities.  This is the hard reality many of us with these privileges don’t want to see.  As the invisible knapsack has taught us, I can’t empower a woman without giving up my power as a man.  And although I am NOT REALLY creating a lose-win strategy for myself (because we all win when power structures are equalized and privileged systems are dismantled) I do need to understand giving up my power and privilege is the heart of the work I do as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man.  In each online conversation, I need to focus first on how I can help others win, instead of worrying about my own game.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Dialogue?  Feel free to comment!

Win-Win-Win: Strategies for Social Media Success – (Not really) – Part 1

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Recently on social media, I have been very engaged in dialogues around social justice topics.  At the same time, I have been discussing online conflict privately with some individuals.  Something I’ve been chewing on…

When we train on conflict resolution in face to face interactions, we talk about (in general) three different strategies:

  • Win-Lose (One of us wins, the other loses)
  • Lose-Lose (We both lose)
  • Win-Win (We both win)

These strategies tend to be universal when it comes to conflict (unless you are Michael Scott in “the Office” – you additionally have win-win-win).  There are other nuanced strategies, but these three tend to be most accepted.

When it comes to online conflict, I rarely see win-win strategy.  It’s like people default to win-lose, and if that doesn’t work they go to lose-lose.

I wonder whether this is because of the medium itself (social media) or because win-win is a hard strategy which invests a lot of energy and people want a break from it online.  Whenever a conflict comes up at work, when I’m at my best, I try to find solutions from a win-win perspective.  It can be tiring and exhausting.  At home, with my partner and with my children, I try (again, when I am at my best) to find win-win solutions (although I need to admit I struggle a lot more to be my best at home).

When I first started engaging online, I didn’t really want to do the work involved in win-win because I wasn’t as invested in the other person I was engaging with the way I would be in face to face interactions.  Mainly because in the early days of digital interactions (telnet and ICQ should tell you how old I am and how long I’ve been on the interwebs) I could just turn off my computer, change my login name (from something like Manilowfan12 to RogerStaubach12) and then start over.  Or I could block this unknown person.  Either way I wasn’t invested because I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me.

Today this is a little different.  On Facebook, my profile is connected with me.  I can’t just change my login if I make a mistake, or don’t like the results of my online interactions.  There are potential consequences for how I engage with conflicts.  Because of this, I have discovered that win-win conflict strategies are crucial on social media.  This is generally my goal on social media and when I engage with others about difficult subjects (again when I’m at my best).  Social media can be a very self-absorbed world; what will these words mean for how people see me?  What will people think of me when I post this picture?

We rarely (or at least I) struggle to ask the question “how will these words impact others?” Or “how might these memes make other people feel?” When I’m at my worst, those questions rarely come up.

These principles may not be universal to everyone, but they are salient for me.

So far, we haven’t discussed an important component to all of this.

When we look at conflict resolution through a lens of equality and social justice, there is another dimension at work; power and privilege.  Because employing a win-lose or lose-lose strategy isn’t always about a lack caring about the other person, it’s about getting needs met and protecting ones’ humanity.  We will discuss this more in a few days with Part 2.

Until then, feel free to comment on how you see issues of power and privilege could impact conflict resolution strategies and the lenses we use to interpret them.



The President, the Press, & Protests


My first year at college I wanted to be a journalist. I was interested in covering the stories of my community, and shedding light on truth was important to me. Shortly after, however,  I took a Media & Communications class. I distinctly remember sitting in the lecture hall with a panel of journalists from various media that my professor arranged for us one class. The panelists spoke about how politicized the field of journalism had become. This class was where I learned that corporations controlled coverage, and depending on what heads of news agencies felt deemed newsworthy, that was what reporters were told to write about or talk about on the 6 o’clock news.

I also was studying journalism at a time when papers were folding due to Internet news sources gaining readership and the consolidation of news outlets led to great uncertainty in the field. It was not long before I realized the field of journalism was not for me– the journalist’s “obligation to the tell the truth” was much more clouded and complex than I anticipated, the field more competitive, the emphasis was all about the ratings and bottom line.

A decade or so later, here we are. Within 24 hours or so of Donald J. Trump taking office as the President of the United States, a press conference is held at the White House where Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke for the first time since the inauguration to media representatives. His message was to call news outlets out for “attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration” by comparing crowd sizes from 2013 to 2017. Calling out journalists for false reporting is something other administrations have not done so blatantly before. For this blog post, I am not interested in exploring “alternative facts” or whether or not crowd experts agree on the estimates for attendance at the inauguration ceremonies. Though I do encourage you to explore from multiple sources what is being said:

What I am interested in exploring, however, is taking a bird’s eye view about what’s going on. In my opinion, media attention on inauguration crowd sizes pulls attention away about other national news stories like the Women’s March  or executive orders that affect many Americans.

Time is money, and air time is a lot of money. When the media moves attention towards something, it means they are pulling the attention from somewhere, someone, or something else. And in a world where information is everywhere, there is so much chaos and noise– we need a reliable and respectable media to report on facts and pursue truth.

Trump has made it clear that the use of technology is important for him to bring a message directly to the people via Tweets (@realdonaldtrump), YouTube statements, and other forms of direct communication. We can likely expect in the months and years ahead that the Trump Administration will surely seek to pull the media’s attention and also work to bypass traditional sources of White House communication by relying on the use of technology.

That very same technology is what we, as citizens, can use to ensure we are educated and informed, and be our own truth tellers. For those of us who attended Student Affairs graduate programs, we may recall being often asked to cite sources (in APA style!). I remember a faculty member at my program, Loyola University Chicago, who said something like, “cite once and it’s an anomaly. Find evidence of a claim twice, it may just be coincidence. But if you back up your claim with at least three sources– now you’ve got my attention and a case for your argument.” So, in the spirit of being scholarly, I encourage all those reading/listening to stories to invoke some of these same sentiments. Indeed, this concept is something all of us– leaders of nations, politicians, journalists, and Facebook friends would benefit from keeping in mind. In sum, here are a few points I’d like to remind you:

  1. Cite sources: If you’re going to make a claim, you better be able to back it up! We are in a world where anything can be Googled. Don’t just speak on emotions or feelings, get the data…especially when what you’re saying may be about or impact large groups of people.
  2. (Almost) every story has an angle: Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get the unadulterated facts? Well, it’s not that easy. Remember what I said before about journalism and ratings? Corporations controlling the media? Well, every news source has an underlying agenda. Some may be more obvious than others. Look for middle of the road news outlets for information and don’t just go off of Facebook click-bait. Yes, it may be easy to do, but we know Facebook uses algorithms to tell you what you want to hear. It is tough and it may not always be perfect, but find the unbiased media like these to get your information and form your own educated understanding of the world.
  3. Tell your own story: Remember that lesson on primary sources versus secondary sources from grade school? Primary ones are the eye-witness accounts, and secondary sources are those who heard from the eye-witnesses, or maybe a letter or article about an event but not a first-hand account. The farther removed you are from the primary source the more room exists for interpretations, opinions, and things getting lost in translation. So why not set the record straight from your own point of view. Personal lived experiences are valuable real-life accounts. Sure, our perceptions are influenced by a thousand factors. But no one can deny that your understanding of your own story is true for you.

Perfect example of Number 3– I’ll share some of my own truth. I am a moderate, and have voted both Democrat and Republican in various elections at the local, state, and national levels. On Saturday, January 21st 2017 I marched in New York City for the Women’s March because, among other reasons, I want the President and his administration to understand that he works for ALL of us. His inauguration speech stated we are united in this country by being American. However, some of his campaign promises would remove rights that exist for various populations of Americans. We need each other. We need to shine the light on one another, especially those who have not had the privilege to live in the spotlight. This internal unity and commitment to one another resonated in my heart that afternoon. I was standing on 47th Street among the crowd and a woman behind me started singing, “Oh-oh say can you see…” I joined her. And by the time the song ended, voices in every direction were singing,”O’re the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” That moment, the unity Trump spoke about was electric. These were people who maybe did not agree with his promises or proposed policies, but indeed they were a crowd of patriotic Americans wanting what we all want for our country– peace, unity, and freedom.

This is my personal truth. My lived experience. I use my truth to guide my life, while recognizing my influence ends at the tip of my nose. Outside of that, we need dialogue. Compromise. Shared commitments. Collaboration. These are the things that must be present when it comes to impacting the lives of others. These are the necessary ingredients that can only be made when we consider multiple perspectives and go beyond ourselves to consider how another person experiences with world. Only after we consider multiple sources, opinions, viewpoints and lived experiences can we make decisions for one another, and with one another. We  do this because we are all a part of this incredible nation. And this incredible nation needs one another to be informed, engaged, and empowered. This country belongs to us, all of us. Let’s be aware of what impacts this beautiful country of ours, make our voices heard, and perhaps most importantly of all– let’s listen. Let’s really listen to each other, and seek to understand each others’ truth.



I Just Can’t Quit You

Cal Newport wrote an editorial for the New York Times in November (and even has a TEDTalk!) asking professionals to quit social media.  To quote Newport: “You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.”  Newport goes on to argue that social media serves as a distraction that carries with it little return on investment for the user in terms of career development and advancement.

I beg to differ. I can’t quit social media. I won’t quit social media. And neither should you.

Newport makes an argument about the value of social media in economic terms when he says “In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable.”  The rewarding of the rare and valuable things is what economists term scarcity.  Social psychologists may draw the parallel to social scarcity, or the idea that humans assign greater value to an object or an action that is more rare.  Newport would argue that the redundancy – or the echo chamber – of social media detracts from professionalism or the unique qualities one desires in a high-achieving professional, thereby limiting its scarcity.  But what Newport misses is that social media does in fact allow for the limitation of social scarcity when used in creative ways.  The very thing that he argues makes you just like everyone else can actually set you apart.

I would venture a guess that 75% or more of my professional network is due to social media.  A vast majority of the programs, initiatives, and changes I have made in my department as a student affairs professional have been because of ideas shared in digital space and by colleagues I have only met on Twitter or have never seen face-to-face. The ideas they share with me and the lengths I go to in order to learn and connect online provide an added value to my professional development as well as my ability to do my job well for my employer.  I have made myself more valuable by expanding the network of those who contribute to my growth.

Newport uses a quote Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers to make his point – “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.”  Newport argues that you can make your impression as a professional regardless of your social network prowess.  But what if we were so good at social media that our bosses couldn’t ignore us?  What if we leveraged our networks to be more innovative, more creative, more courageous, and more productive?

Newport builds a case for social media being distracting – that the Pavlovian response to the dings and beeps of our smartphones can in fact inhibit professional engagement. However, there are ways to flip the script.

If smartphones are a distraction in your staff meetings or you feel like others are not taking advantage of their network connections, take the opportunity to be creative…

  1. Try gamifying an agenda item with Google. “Okay, everyone. Instead of talking about the educational program we are planning for February, you all have 10 minutes to search for the most creative program you can find and make it work for our specific outcomes. The three best ideas get funded $50 instead of $30.”
  2. Use Facebook Messenger for instant ideas. Have everyone get on Facebook Messenger and send a message to a colleague working in a similar functional area at another institution. Have them ask a question related to the specific agenda item and get an instant new idea!
  3. Use Snapchat to create digital minutes of the meeting. Set up a group on Snapchat and have someone take pictures or write quick one-line reminders about agenda items (e.g. “Turn in occupancy reports by 4 p.m!”) Share with the group for a burst of 10-second reminders that they can check later in the day.

Make your social networking part of the reason you are a unique, talented professional. Newport may think that social media “diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter,” but what we produce in digital spaces is who we are and is valuable to our development and advancement.  Even if that means part of your job is to help others see the value.

How do students view YOU on social media?

As student affairs professionals we often think about how our students are using social media platforms, but rarely do we look at ourselves. We are always being watched by our students. Whether we like it or not, they are watching our every move, much like a child watches their parents. With that being said, it is important to ask ourselves how they view us and our behaviors online. If we choose to connect with our students on digital platforms, are we being mindful of what that experience is like for them? 

A (semi) recent situation that highlights the importance of this idea is from this summer, when East Carolina University’s new chancellor, Cecil P. Staton, blocked a student on Twitter. In this specific situation, a student expressed her concern about the new chancellor and his previous political agendas.



Unfortunately, the response that the student was met with did not put Staton in a great spotlight. Staton blocked this student on Twitter and then proceeded to update his Twitter bio to say “social media trolls and bullies will be blocked”.


Staton later changed the bio to say “On Twitter to boost ECU, not to respond to your political views. Abusers may be blocked.”  This resulted in the trending hashtag #alreadysilencingstudents, commenting on the way Staton chose to respond to this situation.


If you are truly on digital platforms to boost the university you work for, doesn’t that also mean you need to engage with students when they voice issues or concerns? This is an important factor for you to think about as you decide to connect with students and the purpose of why you are connecting with them.

The Dean of Students at Ohio University, Dr. Jenny Hall-Jones, asked the question to her students of what they actually thought when she follows them.


While it is great that most of her responses were positive, it is still important to note that some students feel they have to monitor their behavior or feel like it is an invasion of privacy.

A recent survey I completed at Ohio University was intended to gauge the perceptions students have of administrators on social media. I was curious why they connected with faculty or staff members, how they came about connecting with them and how they felt when faculty or staff members connected with them. The main highlight I found from this survey was that students primarily connected with faculty or staff members on digital platforms to stay up to date with news and information related to the university. With that being said, it is likely that students are following more administrators on social media platforms to get quick and timely updates on the university. So some questions to ask yourself when engaging with students on social media platforms:

  1. How do I think my students will view this?
  2. Why are the students following me/connecting with me?
  3. What is my purpose for connecting with students?
  4. Am I modeling behavior that I would want my students to see?
  5. Is this how I would speak or interact with students offline?

Have you asked your students how they view YOU on social media? Share any additional thoughts, experiences, tips or tricks in the comments below. And remember, they are always watching you and what you do.


Social Media and Student Conduct


pexels-photo-48709One of the more frequent conduct related questions I get from Resident Director staff is:

“I just got information/pictures/tweets/etc from online that seem to be a policy violation, what do I do?”

I am often surprised by this question because it seems like we are trying to reinvent the wheel when our current wheel works actually pretty well.  Lots of stories are out there about colleges adjudicating online violations – most of them negative.  Remember, when conduct goes well, it doesn’t make the news.  There is a LOT of good work out there, and I am here to share some philosophy behind those good decisions.

Many of our student conduct principles work well, even in digital spaces.  We just need to remember, getting a picture or tweet is no different than an RA reporting they observed a student violating a policy.  It is evidence to consider, but it should not be taken with full authority.  In my experience, I have found the following practices work well in adjudicating potential policy violations in a meaningful way that keeps relationships between the student and myself.

  1. Adjudicate behaviors and not people.  You aren’t trying to figure out whether the student is a good person or a jerk.  We don’t have policies against being a jerk.  We have policies that create boundaries of behavior.  When we adjudicate behaviors, we leave the judgement of a human being on the side.  I don’t want the power to determine whether the student I am meeting with is a good person or not, ESPECIALLY when my decision impacts them in real ways.  I don’t get paid enough to play a deity in my work.
    • Keep in mind, past behavior DOES play a role in adjudicating (in my opinion).  If a student is already on probation for past behavior, or was given a written warning, that gets factored in, because the repeated behavior is still a behavior.
    • When you get online pictures, tweets, texts, etc, this means you assume there is something you aren’t seeing and give the student an opportunity to fill in the social media gaps.
  2. Go into a conduct case assuming the best.  We operate from research principles that use null hypothesis.  We research the null hypothesis to determine whether the opposite is true.  If you go in assuming the student did NOT do what they said happened, your decision will be much clearer.  This is a challenge.  At the end of the day, I will tell students “I am going to believe you.  Because when I go to bed tonight, I know I assumed the best of you.  You have to go to bed tonight knowing you told the truth or you lied.  That’s on you.  And, one of two things will happen.  Either you will be involved in another potential policy violation or you won’t.  If you are, well, next time this happens, here are the consequences.  It is up to you to decide whether your behavior changes”
    • When it comes to social media, this means if a student tells you something has been doctored, and isn’t real (which can happen – click here)  you need to check that out before you make the decision.  Also, if they provide you more context for their behavior, you need to consider that in the consequences.  You may still find them in violation, but when you assign sanctions, this context may impact your decision.
  3. Do not make decisions in your conduct meeting.  Always explain to the student you will chew on what they are telling you and at least sleep on it before making a final decision.  You can give probabilities (like a weather person) so they understand the reality of their situation and start setting their future expectations.  For example, I have said to a student “you are acknowledging you drank.  If I find you provided the alcohol, you may face stronger sanctions. But if it is purely consumption, you are looking at a written warning and the alcohol class.  I’ll sleep on it and make a decision tomorrow.
    • In social media, what this means is when you don’t know, be ok with that.  Give yourself time.  If a student brings something up and you aren’t sure what they mean or what they are talking about, make a note, and then finish the meeting.  Tell the student, I am going to do more research before making a decision.  Then, talk to a colleague who may be more versed on social media venues and how things work.  Feel free to contact us, we are here to help you navigate.  THEN make your decision.
  4. Always give the student the chance to appeal the decision.  I know this is hard.  WE. ARE. NOT. PERFECT.  We make mistakes.  The appeals process protects the students from our mistakes.  Embrace this process and always encourage the students to use the process.  I’ll always explain to students:
    • “You can’t really appeal if you don’t like my decision, but if you believe I made a mistake in how I determined the preponderance of evidence, my sanction was too severe, or I didn’t give you due process (after explaining what that means), you should appeal.  My hope is this meeting we are having IS your due process.  My hope is I have carefully considered what you are saying.  Due process doesn’t mean I need to believe what you are saying, especially if evidence is weighed heavily against you, but I still need to chew on and consider what you are telling me.  If I don’t do that, feel free to tell me now, so I can adjust.  My hope is you don’t need the appeal process, but it is there if you do.”

By using our current conduct principles, we can easily handle most social media issues that arise.  We don’t need new policies, we just need to apply our policies in digital spaces.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think there are principles that may not translate?  Discuss below:

Cultivating Civility in Digital Spaces


The notion of civil discourse challenges nearly every election cycle, and the current United States presidential election may be one of the loudest examples of how far we can tumble into incivility in our digital spaces.

Whether you favor a blue state, a red state, a 3rd-party candidate, or a complete overhaul of our government, you have the freedom and the privilege to share your opinion widely. Presidential elections happen every four years in our country, but the changes in digital technologies don’t wait a full term to adapt – so the 2016 election finds us engaging (both civilly and uncivilly, productively and unproductively) in ways we could not have predicted just four years ago.

If everyone has something to say and a platform to use, how does a voice get heard? These days, it seems, the louder and angrier it is (regardless of political beliefs) the more likely it is to rise to the top.  And we ask for input – we give answers, we ask questions, we pull others into comment sections with us. But a post is not always a dramatic improvement over silence if it intentionally lacks civility. And the blending of how students differentiate between digital and face-to-face interactions often means that incivility online will seep into incivility on campus.

So how do we encourage civility in digital spaces?

Junco and Chickering (2010) wrote that we need to have dialogue about how “new communication technologies can be used to strengthen our communities and to foster the key cognitive and affective behaviors we value” (p. 15). It’s clear that there’s more to just “being nice” online. There’s a direct connection between how students use these technologies and how they learn in the classroom and treat each other on campus.

As Junco and Chickering (2010) said, “it’s important to help students think about the unintended consequences of what they post online” (p. 17).  This also counts for adults. Not only is it difficult to control how far an uncivil message spreads, but it’s also even more difficult to have control over how it is interpreted by others. In the final weeks before an election, our active and vocal student populations will share their opinions. Administrators and faculty may also want to have others understand who and what they support – but at what cost? Do our posts accurately represent our beliefs? Do our students understand the sarcasm, hyperbole, or volatile language we may use in social media posts if they only know us in purely non-political contexts?

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (2012) at the University of Arizona defines civil discourse as the free and respectful exchange of different ideas, and that idea is central to the effective practice of democracy.  The evolving expanse of digital tools has broadened the opportunity for exchanging ideas and provided an opportunity for both civil and uncivil dialogue.  Digital communication has aligned with face-to-face communication on our campuses, weaving its’ way into our campus communities and influencing us – from social expectation all the way to creation and implementation of policy. So just as we focus on how policies are made around the freedom of expression, we must focus on how social expectations and campus cultural norms are created around digital engagement.

There are questions we can ask ourselves (and our students) that will help encourage civility in digital spaces, particularly around the current election in the United States.

  • Is this something I would say in person?
  • Is what I’m posting an accurate reflection of what I truly believe?
  • Should I wait to post this until I am calmer and thinking more clearly?
  • Does what I’m posting encourage engagement?
  • Does what I’m posting move the conversation forward?

The week leading up to our Presidential election will be a critical time on our campuses, so setting the tone for what civil discourse and respectful dialogue can look like.

What are you doing to lead by example when it comes to civility online?


Junco, R. & Chickering, A.W. (2010). Civil discourse in the age of social media. About Campus, September/October, p. 12-18.

Kenski, K., Coe, K., & Rains, St. (2012). Patterns and determinants of civility in online discussions. National Institute for Civil Discourse. Retrieved from:

You Never Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone…

How Yik Yak has betrayed college students across the country and what this means for Student Affairs and Higher Education
Trigger warnings: discussion on rape culture, racism, power, privilege, and mental health issues.

EDIT:  After 17 days of posting this article, Yik Yak has had a mea culpa and has reverted many of the changes discussed in this article back to the way they were.  This article is still important because it discusses the value of doing so.

Yik Yak.  You hate it.  You love it.  Maybe you don’t care.  You do, however, need to be aware the role it played (and is playing) for our students and what the most recent change has had on how students navigate Yik Yak.

To start, this article sums up nicely what has happened over the summer to Yik Yak from a student’s perspective; The “Death of the Colleges Favorite App”

For us in student affairs, we mostly associate Yik Yak with the dreaded NASPA experience in 2015 in New Orleans.  If you missed this, check out this article from the Chronicle of Higher education: NASPAs conference was going well, and then Yik Yak Showed Up

In Higher Education we tend to prioritize authenticity in the work we do.  We want to be our authentic selves and we want our students to do the same.  In many ways, Yik Yak started out providing just that; authenticity.  It achieved this goal by being completely anonymous.  A user could say whatever they wanted without consequence.  Like “Juicycampus” before, the freedom of Yik Yak was very attractive to students who felt they had no place to be authentic.

In our field, we mostly associate this idea of anonymous posting with negative concepts; misogyny, racism, homophobia.  Yik Yak is an easy place for people to express their hatred without fear of consequence.

But when we, as higher education professionals discuss the concept of authenticity, what gets lost is how the dynamics of power and privilege play out.

It is relatively easy for me, as a White, cisgendered, heterosexual man, married with five daughters, to be authentic online.  I can post on facebook pictures of my authentic life, and get lots of likes, lots of smiles, and lots of encouragement for my “true” self.

For friends and colleagues who may not have the privileged identities I do, there are much deeper questions and barriers to authenticity online that need to be navigated.

For example; if a colleague is gay, but worked at an institution in which they could be fired for being gay, could they truly be “authentic” online?  What does that look like or mean?

If a colleague struggled with depression or mental health issues, or thoughts of suicide, could they be authentic online without fear of getting fired, or not getting hired in the future?

Social media is great, but we don’t often talk about that it supports current societal notions of power and oppression.  “That post wasn’t professional” is something I don’t have to navigate often because of many privileged identities I possess, unless I actually CHOOSE to take a risk.

Enter Yik Yak.  In these anonymous spaces online, people can share whatever they want. Without consequence (well, without many consequences because Yik Yak has never been truly anonymous – but that’s another post for another time).  If I am struggling with depression or mental health issues, I could post on Yik Yak (or a different anonymous app) without fear it may impact a future job prospects.  If I am exploring my sexual identity, I can throw it out into the world without fear of “real life” consequences, because I can shut off the application, switch to a new one, etc.  If I want to explore being a different gender, I can do that.  Yik Yak can be VERY liberating for people who have to put on masks all day to navigate our field and the world.  Many colleagues from marginalized identities struggle daily with having to be “inauthentic” in order to succeed in our supposedly “inclusive” field.  Yik Yak gave them that space.

In higher education we focus on a lot of the negative. Racist posts.  Blatant misogyny. Rape culture.  But what anonymity gives, it gives to EVERYONE.  The hard truth is, on our campuses, these racist, misogynist students exist. This negative culture exists. But within this world of anonymous posts and content, the positives are there amid the negativity.  I’d like to share a few stories with you to highlight these points:

Imagine a male student struggling with being sexually assaulted.  He can’t talk to his friends.  He feels ashamed because of what he has been taught about men, rape, and the hyper masculinity and homophobia that exists in his world. He believes he cannot go into the campus counseling center for fear someone might find out.  Imagine he posts on Yik Yak what happened.  Then a staff member who follows Yik Yak reads it and encourages him and responds with “well, I think there is a counseling center on campus you could talk to that’s totally anonymous.”  And that is the inspiration or the little push he needs to go in and talk to someone.  Because of anonymity, he gets the help he needs.

Imagine a student being abused by their significant other.  Imagine asking “is this behavior normal?” on Yik Yak and the 15-20 responses of “that is not normal! Go get help!”

Imagine a student posting “I think I might be gay”on Yik Yak, and people responding with “you’re ok, there are people around if you’d like to talk about it.”

You may be thinking to yourself “but that wouldn’t happen on my campus!”  And herein is the REAL issue.  Yik Yak isn’t the real problem.

What really worries us as higher ed folks is that Yik Yak provides an assessment tool on the campus climate for your marginalized students.  If negative, racist, and misogynist posts are quickly downvoted and disappeared, or even lead to positive discussions, that would be a positive thing, right?  Sit there for a minute. We aren’t a fan of Yik Yak because we as a profession are concerned that the racists, misogynists, purveyors of rape culture will overpower those fighting against it.  Just sit with that and see if it rings true.

Yik Yak isn’t the problem.  Anonymity isn’t the problem.  The problem is some of our campuses aren’t truly inclusive and we have a LOT of work to do.  We can make it appear they are inclusive by putting together a really cool web page, brochure, social media campaign, or viral video…but if you had an inclusive campus, anonymity wouldn’t be such a concern.

But all of this changed this summer.  True anonymity was replaced with requiring posters to have a profile.  When someone posts on Yik Yak, their profile name goes with it.  You might ask “why is this a problem, you can create an anonymous profile?”  Well, before, each post was compartmentalized.  It existed outside of an identity.  With a profile, you now have no option to disconnect a thought with an identity.  Every thought or post you make contributes to your identity in the app.  Think about it, in essence a profile is a creation of an identity that logs every post and comment ever made by you. This isn’t anonymity.  And it doesn’t provide a place to experiment and explore one’s identities and values without consequence.  Once again, Yik Yak belongs to those who have power and privilege, because societal norms are reinforced.  Because students can no longer post without being connected to a profile, those are are trying to explore various aspects of their identity aren’t able to experiment without it impacting their yik yak profile.  Those who are more comfortable (i.e. those from privileged groups) won’t worry about what they say because ultimately it plays into their power and privilege and seeks to keep those from marginalized identities from gaining power.

Add to this the announcement recently that vine is shutting down.  A great article posted how these apps that shut down impact those shut out from mainstream media:

“Most important, the engines of this creativity were groups poorly served by, and often shut out from, mainstream cultural creation and consumption. Vine wasn’t just dominated by teenagers — it was dominated by teenagers of color. Especially black teens, who created a disproportionate number of popular Vines and used the social network to demonstrate wit, intelligence, creativity, and comic timing that was rarely given a spotlight elsewhere. That included dance trends like the yeet.”

But our students are versatile.  They possess grit.  They will find a way to fill the gap.  Jodel is one up and coming app that is very much like the original Yik Yak (this is not an endorsement of said app).  Students started posting about Jodel on Yik Yak, and Yik Yak was deleting these posts.  Yik Yak now has programs that scour Yik Yak for mentions of Jodel to delete those posts.  So the students adapted again.  Using alternative spelling like J0d3l.  They are truly innovative.  I am NOT advocating for Jodel, but I am merely pointing out that our students will look for these avenues if we aren’t creating them ourselves.

In the Apple app store, when Yik Yak made the change, the reaction from users was swift and angry.  Many people posted thoughts similar to this one:



What is the value of anonymity and how does it allow students to explore authenticity? Something to chew on as our students are engaged in this academic year!