George Henderson, left, professor emeritus, joins students at the University of Oklahoma on March 9, 2015, in Norman, Okla., to protest a fraternity’s racist comments. (Steve Sisney/the Oklahoman via AP)

Over the past week (or, really, past year) the Internet has been abuzz with Yik Yak: the current anonymous app of choice for college students.

The New York Times worries that the posts on Yik Yak are largely “demeaning and crude,” that the app is a breeding ground for abuse, racism, homophobia and misogyny.

[Read more: How do you solve a problem like Yik Yak?]

A quick Google search using the terms “Yik Yak” and “racism” shows why. At college campuses and in high schools across the country, the anonymity of the app has enabled users to bully and post hateful content. A sampling from the long list of stories from campuses across the country:

But what does the conversation turn into when your college campus is embroiled in a national story about race and racism? What happens when there’s a place to talk where nobody knows your name?

I “peeked” into the stream for the University of Oklahoma — which has been embroiled in a brutal racism scandal since video of frat brothers singing a racist song leaked — to see what the kids were saying. Amid the profanity, college pride and sex talk, people were discussing race on campus. Candidly.







Not all of the discussion is particularly sensitive or intelligent. But put this in perspective: This is an app created by two (white) frat brothers to promote a more “democratic” social network. It’s an anonymous space. The conversation is between college students who are also posting about the price of avocados and about sports. Given that, it’s surprising to see how real Yik Yak can get.

I’ve been lurking quietly on Yik Yak for months, and this is not the first time I’ve seen the conversation get more substantive. In December, as Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets in D.C., people posted about the differences between the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

This is not, of course, to say that Yik Yak is a universally safe space or thoughtful community. Right now, the “hottest” Yaks on D.C.’s stream include lines at Union Station and a first date at Starbucks.

But maybe there’s hope for Yik Yak — as much hope as you can have for an anonymous platform and a community of college students. It is, for better or worse, one of the only places for them to voice how they genuinely feel.

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