Demystifying Raftr, the new community engagement app

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Interior of the Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLICE) office at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Jan. 31, 2024. Amy Wong/The Occidental

After launching Aug. 2023, Raftr, an app used to strengthen and track community engagement in higher education, labor unions and nonprofit, boasts a 75 percent adoption rate, according to Sabrina Willison, the associate director of Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLICE). However, Raftr is primarily being used by the class of 2027 who were introduced to the app during the first-year orientation while upperclassmen are lagging behind, Willison said. To allow Raftr to spread beyond the use of first years and fulfill its initiatives of heightened participation in school event, Willison said its function should be demystified.

Willison said that SLICE worked with various offices to host focus groups back in 2022-2023 to determine how the average student hears about upcoming events. Raftr replaces the majority of school-wide emails the student body receives from clubs and broader community events with elements such as announcement pages, timely messages and chat boxes, Willison said.

“Students consistently shared that their inboxes were heavily inundated with emails from academics, clubs and departments. More often than not, clubs were sending multiple emails about fundraisers and events, so they even stopped looking,” Willison said.

Ariel Shweiki (senior) is familiar with the app and said Raftr is comparable to “an academic version of Discord.”

Given that anything related to SLICE can have their own page on the app,Raftr is like an organized online hub for on-campus involvement. It is interactive memes, polls, comment sections and fundraising competitions mirror social media platforms that have succeeded in gaining traction, according to Shweiki. Willson said Raftr emails a digest of general posts, upcoming events or messages tailored to each student’s interests from one’s likes, previously attended events and the organizations they join.

As the co-founder and co-president of Oxy K-Tigers — the K-pop dance club on campus — Shweiki said she finds Raftr key to keeping the spirit of the club members alive and motivated. In order for K-Tigers to continue their main events of weekly dance workshops on Tuesday nights and a big showcase at the end of every semester, enthusiastic participants are undeniably required, Shweiki said.

“Anybody can teach at any dance level so we really encourage participation from all dance experience levels,” Shweiki said. “I think we as a club are learning the different kinds of posts and announcements there are for Raftr. My friends and I already find ourselves scrolling through what the events are for the week from everyone on campus to see what’s going on.”

According to Basho Jazz Fleming (sophomore), after Occidental first implemented Raftr, students reported mixed feelings about this new networking system and a lack of trust in Raftr’s outreach. Despite the advantage of no longer forcing their peers to comb through lengthy emails, Fleming, as one of the Orientation Team (O-Team) leaders of the newly Raftr-educated first year orientation, said he saw confirmation of this widespread hesitancy.

After being trained in navigating the app and creating his own page, Fleming said technical complications still interfered with the smooth flow of events. Though Fleming said he was able to communicate with both first years and other O-Team leaders about when and where to meet for events, the feature that enabled him to record student attendance for mandatory meetings often fell through. Fleming said that with an easy escape to essential orienting events intended to help newcomers get to know each other, student engagement quickly declined.

In addition to this relief that Raftr brings, Willison said the app’s benefits also consist of programming athletic and academic events that are a part of the official Occidental Events Calendar. Willison said that the app works to launch students’ careers in every aspect, as Raftr nudges its users about teaching demos from esteemed faculty members, tennis matches or Hameetman Career Center (HCC) opportunities. Willison said Raftr’s ability to advertise events to specific populations means this notion applies to all members of the Occidental community, including first-gen and transfer students.

Exterior of the Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLICE) office at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Jan. 31, 2024. Amy Wong/The Occidental

Willison said that in the future, Raftr will continue to develop with even more convenient updates. To more formally manage their pages, some clubs are moving towards creating e-board Raftr positions, ensuring their engagement potentials are fully met. Moreover, the HCC aims to link Handshake and other career launchers to Raftr, pushing students to take charge of their lives post-Occidental, Willison said.

Eventually, Willison said that SLICE plans to evolve to a branded Occidental app similar to Raftr that will encompass both academic and student affairs departments and student organizations, all available at our fingertips.

“I like the idea of a place where clubs can talk that’s not more emails to check,” Fleming said.

Even though Raftr has yet to reach all bounds of our community, as some students remain oblivious to current campus events, Willison said that we are only in our second semester of its use. Once students and staff surpass this stage of the learning curve and get everyone on board — with perhaps more student training beyond the freshman class — Raftr will keep us all in the loop with what is happening at Occidental, Willison said.

“Although it is currently a SLICE platform, we are in the process of making it a platform used by both academic and student affairs to be a one-stop shop for student involvement and engagement,” Willison said. “If you haven’t downloaded the Raftr app or joined a club, it’s never too late and SLICE is here to help.”

Contact Nisha Siedler at siedler@oxy.edu.

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