“Graham, if you are thinking about dropping a class, today is the last day to do so,” said a text sent to fourth-year Graham Taylor by the Office of the Registar on Sept. 25, 2018.
“[I] think [I] was probably going from class to class, and I just glanced down,” said Taylor. “I read [the text message, and] a part of me was like, ‘Oh s—t, do I need to drop a class?’”
To help alert students to impending deadlines, Whittier College implemented a system to send reminders of important upcoming dates. Last week, the Office of the Registar sent personalized text messages to all students, reminding them that the deadline for dropping classes was Sept. 25. However, many students were confused as to why an unfamiliar number had sent them a text starting with their first name. “It made me really uncomfortable and confused,” said fourth-year Avery Martinez. “I though it was a scam for a second because it was from a personal number and referred to me by name.”
Unlike other campus services that use texting services, such as Campus Safety, the text did not identify the organization who sent it. Whittier College plans to continue sending important reminders, but they are aware of the issues that some students experienced with the text messages, and will modify the current personalized texting system in a way that will help alleviate future concerns.
The text reminder system was implemented as a joint effort between members of the Office of Admissions, Office of the Registrar, as well as the Dean of Students Office in an effort to help keep students aware of important dates and deadlines. At the start of the 2018 – 19 semester, a calendar of all events deemed too important to remind students via email was compiled, with reminders to be sent out for each event.
“It’s the first time we’ve implemented a texting program,” said Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Pérez. “The idea is to try to create more convenience for students so they are aware of upcoming deadlines that are coming up, as opposed to just sending out emails because we know, in our experience, when we do emailing, students don’t read their emails.”
Using Slate — the organizational system used by the Office of Admissions — the school is able to send automated texts that can be personalized for each student. The first use of the Slate system for automated text messages was at the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester. First-years who had not yet completed their health requirements were reminded to do so. “In this case, it was personalized and specific to those students,” said Pérez. “I didn’t realize that it would be a, ‘Hey John’, you know, a very personalized text, and, so, we’ll need to go back and fix that.”
The first unannounced school-wide use of the system led to some discourse amongst students. Although the phone number began with the familiar Whittier-based 562 area code, it could have been anyone. In addition, the other texting system used by Campus Safety always identifies itself as campus safety at the end of every text — but there was no such identifier here. “It was from one of those 562 numbers, but it was a random number,” said Taylor.
“I think that if they want to send text message updates then it needs to be from the Whittier College mass text number,” said Martinez. “College-wide deadlines shoud be sent through email or communicated through profesors or admin in class.”
Aware of the anxieties felt by some students, the faculty in charge of the texting system are working to resolve the issues. “So now, I’m now after the feedback we’ve gotten from this,” said Pérez, “I’ll go back with admissions to find out if there’s a way to set it up so it is not as personalized, and probably have it tested.”
Pérez added that if the Slate system was not able to be utilized in the way that the faculty intended, it’s not the only option. “We’re trying to improve the system, in the hopes of it doesn’t create as many problems. If we feel like this one program doesn’t work, then there are other systems out there.”
He concluded the interview with a sincere “apology for the nuisance it created,” adding that the “intent was to provide students a friendly reminder about something that some students might want to take advantage of so they didn’t miss an important deadline, and then realize later, oh my gosh, I missed a deadline. So that was really, that was the intent.”