Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

A sick day is usually an excuse to stay in bed, but for Caroline Twyman ’24, it was the perfect opportunity to visit the package receiving center.

Twyman — who may have come down with the Yale Plague befalling many students — had received nine emails in three days informing her of package arrivals. Because the line outside the package receiving center — currently located in the old Durfee’s Sweet Shoppe storefront at 200 Elm St. — typically stretched down the block, she didn’t have time to visit during an ordinary school day. So Twyman took advantage of the sick day to visit the center, waiting outside for over two hours before making it to the front of the line, where center employees informed her that none of her packages were available for pickup.

“I went home and went back to sleep because I was sick and sad and wasted so much time,” Twyman said. “They said they were probably still processing and transferring them and that I should check back the next day.”

In the early weeks of the fall semester, Twyman’s experience was relatively common. On Sept. 16, the Yale College Council put up an Instagram post seeking student feedback on the package receiving center, linking a Google Form in their bio. According to YCC Director of Health and Safety Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24, 151 students have submitted responses to date.

Of the students who responded to the survey, 99.3 percent rated their package receiving center experience as either “unsatisfactory” or “extremely unsatisfactory,” Bertrán Ramírez said. Sixty percent reported spending over an hour in line, and 72.1 percent reported having received a false package arrival notification email.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reshaped the University’s student package processing system. Prior to the pandemic, Yale provided one centralized student package receiving center, located at 250 Church St. In order to receive United States Postal Service mail on campus, “all students are required to have a U.S. Post Office Box,” according to Yale’s website. Some students alternately chose to ship packages to the apartments of their off-campus friends or the houses of student organizations.

The pandemic changed all that. During the 2020-21 academic year, residential colleges opened their own package receiving centers for the first time, according to Davenport College Operations Manager Shaffrona Phillip-Christie. The colleges opened the centers as a public health measure in order to avoid long lines and crowding at the 250 Church St. facility, she said.

Grace Hopper Head of College Julia Adams told the News — in a joint statement with provided Operations Managers Sarah Layedra and Susan Obert — that it became apparent last spring that it would be a “challenge” for the Church Street facility to handle the anticipated volume of student packages in the fall 2021 semester given the increased on-campus population.

“All colleges were asked if they would be willing to dedicate college resources — space, staff time, student staff time, etc. — to opening a package center in their respective college,” Adams wrote.  “Given the space constraints of most colleges, this simply was not feasible.”

As a solution, in August, Yale opened a new package receiving center in the old Durfee’s storefront on Elm Street, which became responsible for processing packages for students living on Old Campus and in five residential colleges: Saybrook, Davenport, Pierson, Branford and Berkeley colleges. But long lines and unreliable communication quickly plagued the facility, according to four students.

Two employees at the Elm Street center declined to provide comment and declined to direct the News to a manager. Yale Mail Service manager Gerald Apuzzo did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jerry Shan ’23 described the situation as “a nightmare.”

“Twice, I’ve waited in line for over an hour after receiving multiple emails that my packages had arrived only for them not to have my package,” Shan said. “I don’t blame the people running the package centers since they’re just contractors trying to do their job, but there really should be a more efficient system put into place.”

The on-campus package receiving system has had an impact on off-campus students, as well. Emma McKinney ’23 told the News that in the early weeks of the semester, many friends asked if they could ship their packages to her off-campus apartment. The resulting influx of shipments filled her apartment building’s mailroom to capacity and packages were occasionally left in the building’s entryway, vulnerable to theft, she said.

Bertrán Ramírez said that the center’s hours were another common source of concern in survey responses. Its current hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which conflict with some students’ class schedules, he said.

The YCC is currently drafting a policy proposal in response to student feedback, Bertrán Ramírez said.

Some students have turned to the USPS facility at 206 Elm St. as an alternative to the package receiving centers, including Twyman, who rented a P.O. Box there following her sick day. She said the P.O. box has made it easier to receive mail in a timely manner, particularly time-sensitive medication, and she has offset the cost by sharing it with friends.

“The P.O. Box experience has been very smooth because the lines are short, the service at the post office is reliable and quick, and I have full control over how often I want to visit my personal box,” Axel de Vernou ’25 wrote to the News. “The package center has certainly made me see the contrast even more because many of the students there have had to sacrifice class time to receive a necessary item.”

According to Adams, the Church Street facility temporarily closed for repairs after Hurricane Ida-related flooding in early September, prompting some residential colleges to set up temporary package receiving centers. The colleges currently receiving direct package shipments are Davenport, Saybrook, Jonathan Edwards, Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Benjamin Franklin, Trumbull, Grace Hopper and Morse colleges. Students living on Old Campus and in Pierson, Berkeley and Branford colleges can receive packages at the Durfee’s center. While the Church Street facility completes repairs, students in Ezra Stiles and Pauli Murray colleges can pick up packages at Ingalls Rink.

Conditions at the Durfee’s center have improved in recent weeks, according to several students. The change might be the result of several factors, including new staffing hires, the addition of residential college facilities and decreased package volume after the initial move-in period.

“We know that the Student Package Center is grateful to the colleges that have pitched in to help, but also know that it is a temporary solution and not feasible for all colleges to continue long term,” Adams wrote in a statement to the News. “We hope that a centralized, permanent solution can be found that will first and foremost suit the needs of both the students and the University.”

The Yale Mail Service home office is located at 344 Winchester Ave.

Olivia Tucker covered student policy & affairs as a beat reporter in 2021-22. She previously served as an associate editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine and covered gender equity and diversity. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a senior in Davenport College majoring in English.
Yeji Kim covers the AACC, La Casa and NACC. Originally from Ohio, she is a first-year in Berkeley College majoring in ethics, politics and economics and East Asian Studies.