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Dickinson College Staff Members Help Return Items to Students in the Wake of Campus Closure Due to COVID-19

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

After an unprecedented semester, Dickinson staff members pitch in to pack and secure students' stuff

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Spring 2020 was a season of many firsts at Dickinson, as the college moved to online instruction in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While professors, students and administrators worked out new ways to instruct, learn and connect online, Dickinson’s Division of Student Life grappled with a herculean feat behind the scenes: figuring out what to do with all of the stuff students had left behind in their residence hall rooms.

“Typically, our move-out process is planned well in advance. This year, much of the planning happened quickly, as the situation evolved,” says Amanda George, director of residence life & housing. “Many of us took on responsibilities that we could have never expected.”

“It’s been hard work and a lot to organize, but it’s going extremely well,” adds Angie Harris, associate dean of students. “We all have to pitch in and make the most of this challenging situation.”

The challenge was, in large part, a matter of timing: To prevent the spread of COVID-19 by members of the campus community who traveled during spring break, Dickinson leaders closed the college during spring break. Some traveled to campus immediately to collect their things. Most did not. The campus was soon closed to visitors, in accordance with an order by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, beginning Friday, March 20.

Staff members worked with students to ensure that essential items left on campus, such as important documents or needed class materials, were shipped to students’ homes. When Gov. Wolf gave the all-clear signal and the campus opened up again, students could either schedule a time to pack up their belongings—provided they observed social-distancing recommendations put forth by the Pennsylvania CDC—hire a professional packing and storage organization or request that Dickinson staff members do it for them. 

"I am grateful and relieved that they provided options to the students who could not return to campus," said Leah Blatt '22, an international business & management major and Dickinson College Ballet Certificate with Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) program enrollee—and one of the more than 200 students who requested that Dickinson staff members do the packing and storing for them. "I also really appreciated that a member of the staff called before packing the room so that my roommate and I could identify our belongings and share any of our concerns."

Once a student’s items are packed, volunteers in Dickinson’s Office of Conferences and Special Events move the items into a secure storage space on campus, carefully logging and organizing the packages for easier pickup down the road. Dickinson’s housekeeping staff then shifts into high gear to clean the newly emptied room.

According to George, and at the time of this writing, 205 students’ belongings have been packed up so far by volunteer teams from the Division of Student Life, including members of the Departments of Athletics, Public Safety, Residence Life & Housing and Student Leadership & Campus Engagement. Staff members even check in with students to identify which items they wish to keep, discard or donate.

“We joke that we’re expert packers now,” says George.

Tatiana Ulloa ’22 (biochemistry & molecular biology) says it was an overall positive experience during a challenging time.

“I am an international student, and I really appreciated not having to go back to Pennsylvania to pack up my belongings,” says Ulloa, a native of Quito, Ecuador. “I think the residence-life staff did a good job handling this unprecedented situation, considering they gave us several options and didn't expect students to figure this out on their own.”

Read more stories about how members of the Dickinson community near and far have responded to emerging needs and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Published June 11, 2020