Featured Spotlights

Walla: Breaking Social Barriers

Duke always has tons of cool events happening on campus, but many people don’t go due to fear of showing up alone. Walla, a social connectivity app created by senior Judy Zhu, intends to combat this by bringing people of similar interests together and showing all of the events happening on campus. Walla may have the capacity to initiate new friendships, or just provide the comfort of knowing you won’t be showing up to an event alone.

Taking that first step onto a new college campus with 7,000 strange new faces can be an overwhelming experience—you’re starting the next chapter of your life and leaving the comfort of your hometown and old friends in the process. It’s a difficult transition and one that can leave many people struggling to find friends that they truly relate to.  

While some people get lucky and instantly find their niche, others have difficulty finding people who are interested in the same things as them. And though Duke offers plenty of events and clubs to draw people together and facilitate introductions, such a large transition is challenging regardless of how many Devils After Dark events you go to. And, more often than not, formed groups tend to become concrete and less fluid.  

Sometimes, it seems as if Duke’s culture is simply a compilation of groups, each one making it harder for individuals to connect across these factions. Be it Greek life, SLGs, sports teams or acapella groups it becomes easy to identify ourselves as singularly a part of one or two clubs, limiting our desire or ability to branch out and meet people in the larger Duke student body.  In the midst of such a divisive atmosphere, how are students supposed to expand their Duke network?

Enter Judy Zhu, the creator of the Walla app. In an attempt to help those with a desire to venture outside of these associations, the Duke senior created Walla as a spontaneous hangout app for Duke students that encourages them to connect with each other at any time or place of the day.

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Judy, a soft-spoken Pratt student, has always been eager to socialize and meet others. At the start of our interview, the first thing she asked was, “Can I get to know you a little bit first?” She came up with the idea for the app due to her personal experiences at Duke. “There were so many things going on and I wasn’t necessarily connected with them- there was a disconnect between the general movement and where I thought everyone else was going, versus what I thought was the social connectivity in my life,” Zhu explained.

A driving force behind Zhu’s creation of the app was to help prevent FOMO, otherwise known as the “Fear of Missing Out.” Zhu felt that the Duke community contained members who had the desire to attend many of Duke’s activities and events, but shied away due to a fear of showing up alone if they couldn’t find a friend with similar interests to join them.

“There were so many things going on and I wasn’t necessarily connected with them–there was a disconnect between the general movement and where I thought everyone else was going, versus what I thought was the social connectivity in my life,” Zhu explained.

And this seems perfectly rational. Showing up to things alone can sometimes be an awkward feeling.Think of it this way: not many people would want to show up to a basketball game by themselves.  

Walla is meant to combat Duke’s intimidating environment by creating a platform where students can find like-minded people around them through a newsfeed that constantly informs app-users of real time events happening on campus. As events on campus are announced and scheduled, Walla simultaneously places these events into their app with all of the attendant information provided. (Think date, time, building, description).

As Zhu explains, “Duke students are boundlessly curious and have a hunger for making meaningful connections with other Duke students.”

Walla is incredibly user-friendly, with each user able to filter all campus activities through areas of interest such as art, school, sports, rides, games or food. All you need is your Duke email.  Each user is also able to see who has expressed interest in a certain event by tapping on the game/show one wishes to attend. And you can express interest yourself–simply tap a button. The idea of the interest button is to indicate to other users who else will be attending an event so that people know they won’t be showing up alone.

People can use the app as a way to learn more about what is happening on campus or see who else is planning to attend an event.  Zhu thinks that the app will be a great success at Duke.  As Zhu explains, “Duke students are boundlessly curious and have a hunger for making meaningful connections with other Duke students.”

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Looking back on her time at Duke,  Zhu feels that Duke could have done a slightly better job of fostering an environment in which students can explore different groups.  And if her app proves anything, it is that she is not alone. Walla has over 1,000 users, some of whom feel that the app has made a difference in helping them discover other students that have similar interests.

Especially for introverts and people who prefer smaller groups of acquaintances, it can be intimidating and sometimes even alienating to have nothing geared specifically towards your style.

Eric Ho, a senior at Duke, recognizes that Duke offers students plenty of events to participate in, but it’s meaningless if one doesn’t have people to go with.  

“You can go to an event every day and still never really know anyone on a personal level,” Ho explained.

“Especially for introverts and people who prefer smaller groups of acquiantances, it can be intimidating and sometimes even alienating to have nothing geared specifically towards your style.” Ho uses different aspects of the app depending on the situation. He explains that there’s the more “PSA” side of Walla – telling people about events that are happening on campus. But there is also a more personal side.

“Sometimes, when I’m alone, I know I could use some company for whatever I’m doing so I just holla at Walla and wait for the people to come,” said Ho.

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Walla has great potential to positively benefit Duke’s campus because of its success in reducing the intimidation factor of branching out of your comfort zone to meet new people. It is not meant to change Duke’s social structure, but rather to serve as a platform for Duke students to make new connections within such a group-oriented environment.

“Think of the tight-knit community of your freshman hall, and expand that to the entire campus. That’s what I see Walla doing for Duke students.”

So though the app might not have the power to change our gravitation toward groups, it provides a useful resource for people searching for friends with similar interests across the entire student body, unlimited by affiliations. Walla can break social barriers so that people don’t need to be afraid to reach out to new people because the other app users are doing it too.

“Think of the tight-knit community of your freshman hall, and expand that to the entire campus. That’s what I see Walla doing for Duke students. No matter what year you’re in, where you come from, or what you study, you can find a group of welcoming Duke students who are into the same things you are,” said Zhu.


Article: Claire Meyer

Features Editors: Vivian Zhang and Emilie Padgett

Photography: Kayla Carlisle

Web: Tessa Hollinger and Melanie Krassel

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