Thank you to all of those who contributed to and read our first installment of Campus Perspectives. Our topic this week focuses on a tactical issue facing many campuses – personal property left behind by students. We hope you find this content helpful as you forge policies at your institutions in the wake of the rapid closure of residential facilities. If you have any topics you would like us to pose to our panelists, or if you would like to contribute yourself, please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: With many residence halls closing so quickly and students unable to fully move-out, some institutions are left with residents’ personal property. What processes are you considering, planning or already implemented to ensure the safe return of students’ belongings?
Alma Sealine, Executive Director of University Housing
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
After the University of Illinois announced the remainder of the semester would be completed on-line, we started a two-week move out process. However, three days into this move-out process, the Governor announced a state-wide ‘stay-at-home’ directive. The order required we suspend our move-out operation within 24 hours. During those four days, prior to suspending the process, we were able to move out over 5,500 students.
Since we were planning on using two halls for hospital surge space and medical personnel, we offered packing and shipping services for the students who lived in those buildings. Packing services were provided by our building service worker staff and the shipping services were coordinated by our storage/shipping vendor. For students who could not afford to have their items shipped, we identified an on-campus storage location for their belongings. The belongings of the students who did not live in the two identified residences halls, remain locked in their rooms. We will identify a process and a time frame for these students to return to campus to retrieve their belongings after the stay-at-home directive is lifted.
The complexity and detail of this plan was significant and was addressed by a great group of housing professionals focused on the student experience. The successful implementation of the plan was due in large part to the communication efforts by our Housing Information & Marketing, Family & Graduate Housing, and Residential Life staff.
At Babson, as students checked out, residence education staff members checked rooms and noted any remaining items. We created a master list and then communicated with those residents via phone and email to determine next steps regarding the items. Some students were able to come back to campus, some had friends who were local and we provided access to retrieve belongings, some we stored in residence education-owned spaces across campus, and some students asked that we discard the items. We regularly communicated with facilities colleagues about the status of the rooms and belongings.
The College created a student emergency fund and we used the funds to hire an alumnus owned storage company. We discussed options with students and coordinated with the company to either ship items (for seniors or exchange students) or to store items for students returning to campus once we reopen. Some students requested to FaceTime with a residence education staff member while the company packed belongings. We prioritized compassion and care, in recognition of the stress experienced by students and families throughout the process.
At Bentley University our students were on Spring Break when we made the decision to close the residence halls, so we disseminated a survey for them to indicate their plans for moving out. The survey provided three move-out options; (1) return to campus during the allotted time frame; (2) unable to return to campus during the allotted time frame; (3) unable to return to campus due to travel restrictions.
Once all students who were able to return had moved out of campus, we focused on students unable to remove their belongings. In those cases, we hired Olympia Moving & Storage to pack students’ items; as you can imagine students had various reactions. The company was escorted by Residential Center staff through each student space and they created an inventory of everything they packed. We created a specific Bentley e-mail account and website to facilitate direct communication between the company and the students. Bentley paid for the packing and storage of student belongings. The price also included delivery of the items to Bentley for fall 2020. If desired, students may pick up their belongings at the warehouse prior to the fall semester for a fee or have the items shipped to the student at cost. Students are responsible for paying the fee or shipping costs.
The decision to close the halls was made during Spring Break and students were provided a deadline to return to campus to retrieve their items. UNLV Housing worked on a case-by-case basis with students unable to return by the deadline or with those who had no other housing options. For those students able to return to campus, ZippyShell, a local moving company, was on hand to assist with the packing and transporting of student items to their vehicles.
For the students unable to return to campus, UNLV paid for ZippyShell to execute one of the two following options: (1) pack and store personal items in ZippyShell storage facility (the university covering the first month storage fee) or (2) pack and ship home their personal items. Once move out was complete, we hired ZippyShell to help the 90 remaining students move across campus for consolidation into one of two buildings.
Ultimately, our goals were to be student and family centered, by providing excellent service to both minimize stress and mitigate onerous financial burdens.
UGA students were on spring break when the decision was made to suspend instruction for two-weeks, and then to hold classes online for the remainder of the semester. We quickly modified the check-out process to significantly reduce the time in the building and possible interactions with others. This also included scheduling move outs that permitted 3% of each community to return to check out during a two-hour time slot.
While over 7,000 students returned and moved out, several students were not able to return. UGA Housing is working one-on-one with each student to understand their circumstances. For some, we are allowing them to return later when it is safe to travel again and leaving their room “as-is”. For others, the student and their family have arranged for movers or shippers to remove items and are mailing back their keys (in a padded envelope!). We are trying to personalize this process as much as possible, knowing that this is one of the many transitions each student is navigating right now. We also continue to be in close communication with campus and state leaders.
At Marquette, we had an essential item pick-up in mid-March, when we believed we would reopen in mid-April. About a week after that was completed, the knowledge of the gravity of the situation changed and we shifted to full move out.
We identified a three-phase move-out process. First, early move out which provided students or their proxies to fully move out over a two-week period in late March/early April. We scheduled a two-hour period with one move-out helper. Part of our safety precautions included having custodians clean elevator buttons, moving carts and front desk surfaces after each use. Second, we partnered with four moving companies to assist with move out. We coordinated the companies’ access to the buildings to complete students’ desired move-out plans (pack and store, pack and ship, or a combination of both). Third, we will facilitate a move out following finals week in mid-May for those who could not attend the first phased move out. Our processes will ensure social distancing, by using specified time frames to limit the number of students moving out at the same time. Students sign up via Mercury (our hosing management system).
We also offered personalized assistance to students whose circumstances prevented them from engaging in one of the above processes. We have students, who were unable to leave campus, living in one residence hall. Upon request, we provided access to moving trucks and campus vans to assist their move into the consolidation building. Marquette parents and alumni also generously helped with packing and storage for students who were unable to return to campus. Finally, with all the appropriate safety precautions we are preparing for the removal and disposal/donation of any discarded student belongings that remain in the rooms.