For the residential students who had to vacate their dorms from March 13-15 due to coronavirus (COVID-19), moving out was a stressful experience. Days before, when announcing the suspension of in-person classes, the University had notified students that they had the option to stay. Then some students no longer had a place to stay. Many were forced to leave their belongings.
On March 20, students received a follow-up email notifying them that external movers would be packing and storing their belongings. However, on March 28, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan informed residential students that movers would only pack some rooms.
Chief of Staff to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs Lee Hawthorne explained in an email to The News-Letter that administrators decided to pack rooms that served as appropriate temporary housing for health-care workers. Administrators changed their decision due to the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic.
“As more information has become available, we can further tailor how we best assist our JHU community and health system, as well as the broader public health response for our City and State,” Hawthorne wrote. “We therefore decided not to pack and store all students’ belongings at this time.”
Hawthorne added that administrators considered using spaces where they could put these first responders in one area and minimize disruption for students that had gotten an exception to remain on campus.
Sophomore Ian Guarini wrote in an email to The News-Letter that his room in Bradford Apartments was one of the rooms selected to be packed by the University. According to Guarini, he was notified of this after he had already left campus.
Within 48 hours, he added, Director of Housing Operations Sarah Mansfield asked to speak with him. Guarini explained that he explicitly asked if the food in his room would be packed.
“During our phone conversation, I asked Ms. Mansfield if the food in our rooms would be packed as well but she told me the cleaning staff had already entered each room and discarded all food items, including unopened non-perishable items,” Guarini wrote.
Guarini was not delighted by the idea of other people packing his belongings.
“I definitely was not thrilled about the situation and having other people going through my things, especially since I wasn’t given a choice to pack my room myself. It is a little uneasy to have other people pack all my things and just trust that they got everything without me being able to check or see the apartment,” he wrote.
He could foresee other potential complications, such as items being lost or stored separately as movers transported belongings.
In an email to The News-Letter, sophomore Divisha Jaiswal said that packing students’ belongings is an invasion of privacy.
“First off, no matter how professional the movers they hire, there’s just something really invasive about having someone you don't know or trust go through and reorganise your personal belongings,” Jaiswal wrote.
Sophomore Yoko Yamashita wrote in an email to The News-Letter that she was unhappy with the original housing decision.
“I was outraged by the email that Housing operations sent out about ‘external professionals’ packing students’ belongings up. I did not understand why Housing operations thought it would be necessary to hire ‘external professionals’ to pack students’ items into boxes if they were going to leave everything in their dorms,” Yamashita wrote.
Sophomore Pritika Parmar wrote in an email to The News-Letter that while she acknowledged that there was information that administrators could not disclose about their actions, they should have been more communicative about why they made their decisions.
“In this case, I do wish that there was more explanation given regarding the rationale behind each of the decisions they were making. I think when this explanation is not given, students create their own biased views of why certain actions are being taken, giving the admin an even worse image in the eyes of the student body,” Parmar wrote.
Parmar added that she heard in later meetings that there was a valid reason for the initial decision to pack students’ belongings: medical professionals responding to the COVID-19 pandemic needed a place to stay without the fear of possibly infecting their families.
“If students heard this rationale from the start, while there would still be dissent, they would understand why the action was taken. Instead, students were left to believe that the university was planning on packing up their stuff and just leaving it in the rooms, which was not actually the case,” she wrote.
Although Guarini acknowledged that housing was going to be used for health-care staff, he believes that the University knew in advance that they might use student housing buildings for that purpose.
“In my opinion they should have given us a warning that there was a possibility they would be packing our rooms for us beforehand or they should have told us to move out before we left campus,” Guarini wrote.
In addition to announcing the change to not pack all belongings, Shanahan’s announcement informed students that they would have different options on how to apply the credit for pro-rated room charges and unused portions of meal plans. The options include requesting a refund and allowing the credit to remain on one’s account.
In an email to The News-Letter, freshman Jashandeep Lobana characterized these options as fair.
“They said that students with financial aid will not have their future aid impacted if they get refunded, and that was really helpful for me because I am relying on financial aid for covering my tuition and expenses here,” he wrote.
Senior Class President Pavan Patel, who proposed this alternative, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that he sent the letter to University President Ronald J. Daniels and Board of Trustees Chair Louis J. Forster.
“I’m looking forward to hearing what the response to this will be,” he wrote.
According to Hawthorne, administrators will update the student body about future decisions as soon as possible.
“We know this is a tough time for everyone, and that includes faculty and staff too. I appreciate the support and grace this community has given each other as we all navigate through these challenging and unfamiliar times,” she wrote. “I hope students know that faculty and staff are still available to them, should they need us.”