David Zheng

Members of the Class of 2020 now have instructions for how to retrieve their on-campus belongings, but for many, the guidelines raise concerns about whether and how they will be reunited with all of their items. 

On Tuesday, Yale Conferences and Events Executive Director Suzanne Shaw emailed members of the class of 2020 regarding belongings currently in vacant dorms. While campus has remained largely closed for the past two months, the email’s guidelines explained that seniors could sign up for two hour time slots between June 1 and July 16 to retrieve their items. Should students not be able to return to campus, they can designate another person to move their belongings or request that their belongings be shipped to them.

For many graduated seniors, the announcement sparked concerns regarding how they will return to campus as well as whether they will receive all of their items via shipping. Even for those students who do plan to pick up their items, many are concerned that they will not be able to pack up their belongings in the allotted two hours.

“In light of the already-stressful move out situation, this email is particularly frustrating,” Kaija Gahm ’20 wrote in an email to the News. “We all know how hard it is to move out in one day; now we are being required to move out in two hours.”

Gahm said many students are stressed during a regular move-out day, with many students “exhausted” and scrambling to pack their belongings. Aside from the difficulties of the two-hour time frame, she also said many students may be upset that only two individuals — a student or designated proxy as well as one helper — can pack up items.

Shaw wrote in an email to the News that “a few” students have contacted Yale Conferences and Events to request a three-hour time block. Still, she told the News that despite some misgivings,  “most students do not seem to see a problem with packing and moving within two hours and recognize that health and safety are the top priority, so lingering is not a good idea.”

“We expect students to do their best to complete their move as quickly as possible,” Shaw wrote. “We also plan to offer three hour appointments after June 19th but the students who can move within two hours will go first.  We understand and sympathize with students who want their belongings as soon as possible, so we blocked two hours slots initially as this allows for more time slots which allows students to retrieve items sooner.”

She added that the office will receive and review special requests, especially regarding furniture, on a case-by-case basis. Should her office be able to fulfill these requests safely, she said they will do “everything we can,” to try to accommodate them reasonably.

After hearing complaints from the Yale College Council and other groups, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wrote in an Friday email to seniors that three-hour time slots are now available, as well as slots in the evenings and weekends. In a separate message to the News, Gahm said that she appreciated that the administration seems to be listening to seniors’ concerns, and that the new email was “helpful.” She added that the revised academic calendar — which was released earlier this week and maintains the possibility of beginning the next school year on campus — ”explains the urgency of getting this process taken care of.”

The YCC has also created a centralized spreadsheet through which students can sign up to serve as proxies for seniors who cannot return to campus.

“While we understand the administration’s public health and logistical concerns, some of the regulations in the emails seemed overly strict,” YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 wrote in an emailed statement to the News prior to Chun’s email. “If there is any leeway in increasing the time students have to pack, or if it is possible to store belongings that can’t be shipped for now, we hope the administration will cater to students in that way. 2020’s last memories of Yale shouldn’t be bad ones.”

The new regulations also come at a time where many seniors — all of whom were forced to graduate online instead of at a traditional commencement ceremony — are already facing disappointment about their final days at Yale.

The original email from Shaw also stated that if students cannot travel back to campus, the University offers a service to pack students’ belongings and ship them to students’ homes. Such a restriction would exclude larger items such as tables and sofas. According to the email, belongings that are left behind in dorms “will be considered abandoned and be donated or discarded.”

Gahm said that while she understands that the University passed the new regulations to comply with social distancing measures, the guidelines seem to encourage the opposite.

“I think the policy as written actually incentivizes people to break social distancing protocols when they might not otherwise do so,” Gahm wrote. “If the choice is between losing expensive and valuable items or taking the risk that they might get broken or lost if packed by someone else, and making a dangerous trip to retrieve them, I think a lot of people will opt to travel, potentially exposing themselves and loved ones in the process. Yale Facilities workers will also be put at increased risk by being exposed to the travelers.”

Samuel Rimm-Kaufman ’20, who has been living out of a suitcase since March, said he was initially “pretty excited” at the prospect of being reunited with his belongings. But in an email to the News, Rimm-Kaufman wrote that he was “appalled” that the administration originally considered two hours enough time to pack and move out.

“I see no reason why me spending more than two hours in my suite increases anyone’s risk of contracting COVID,” Rimm-Kaufman wrote. Since December, Rimm-Kaufman has lived with just one other student.

Both Gahm and Rimm-Kaufman said the guidelines may cause larger barriers for some lower-income students. The process of moving out, which for many would require extensive travel and vehicle rental fees, could prove expensive, but if students cannot travel back to campus, they risk losing some of their belongings. And even though Gahm said she appreciated Chun’s recent email, she told the News that she would still like for the administration to explicitly acknowledge the possible financial burden of the new policies on students who lack resources to travel and move their items.

Since the email arrived in student inboxes Tuesday afternoon, some students have volunteered to help their peers. Megan Roberts ’21 and her partner posted on Wednesday in Overheard at Yale that they would move some student belongings at reasonable rates.

“Honestly, my partner and I debated for a while whether it was ethical for us to offer this service, given that it feels a little exploitative if the current situation, but with the absolutely terrible options Yale is providing to its students to get their things themselves, we figured it was a service that a lot of people would like to have the option of choosing,” Roberts told the News.

Roberts added that so far, she and her partner have packed up eight apartments and have over 20 pending job orders.

On Wednesday, Shaw emailed rising sophomores, juniors and seniors in Yale College with instructions for retrieving their items. She wrote that undergraduates can make appointments to retrieve their belongings beginning June 8, allowing graduated seniors to take advantage of the first openings.

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu