Racist Comments Flood App Used by American University Students

Some American University students are outraged after a flood of shocking, racist comments were posted to a location-based app that lets users remain anonymous.

Commenters whose locations show them as being on AU's campus in Washington, D.C. have flooded the app Yik Yak with offensive messages calling black students "weird," saying they need to "pick cotton" and endorsing slavery. 

"Black people are weird. So sensitive. Isn't there some cotton that needs to be picked?" said one anonymous message.

Some African-American students said the comments are a reflection of more subtle racism on campus.

"I feel unwelcome," sophomore Devontae Torriente said. "I think that American University champions itself as this diverse and progressive institution, but you see how the students really feel and what they truly have to say, and you know their actual emotions about students of color."

AU student Emem Obot said, "At this point, I just feel hurt, neglected."

The university is under pressure to stem the tide of comments.

School officials said they sympathize with students' concerns. Fanta Aw, the assistant vice president of campus life, said it's difficult to identify students who post the comments. The university has a strong focus on teaching racial sensitivity, she said.

"We've been doing a lot of faculty development and a lot of faculty training. We also work with incoming students at orientation," Aw said.

Some students said the university indeed makes them feel welcome.

"As an African-American student here at American University, it has been all positive," one student said.

But others say the university isn't doing enough to fight racism.

"They held a town hall last year where they talked about it and then nothing changed," said student Jack Stone.

"...[T]he university hasn't given me much hope lately," Torriente said.

It's not the first time this year that racist comments on the app have been tied to AU. In March, a Twitter user who said she was an AU student tweeted what appeared to be screenshots of multiple pages of offensive Yik Yak comments. She wrote that the anonymous posts were written by fellow AU students.

According to her screenshot, one anonymous user wrote, "It's obviously racist, but I really don't like 99 percent of the black people I meet. At least I'm honest."

Another person wrote, "Their entire culture just isn't conducive to a life of success. It just isn't. The outfits. The attitudes. The behavior."

A group of students is asking the university to provide mandatory racial-sensitivity training.

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