CWRU’s belonging removal policy leaves students frustrated

Yvonne Pan and Nathan Lesch

After initial reassurances from the Office of University Housing that March 17 would not be the final day to collect belongings from residential halls, Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark and Vice President for Campus Services Richard Jamieson asserted in a March 26 email, to students who had not yet moved out of on-campus housing, that any remaining belongings would be packed by movers chosen by the university and stored. Approximately 80% of Case Western Reserve University students live on campus, and CWRU administrators had not discussed the policy change with the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) or the Residence Hall Association (RHA) prior to its announcement.

Within two hours of the university’s initial notification of the policy change, three USG officers—Vice President of Public Relations Alex Gould, Vice President of Student Life Sophie Vilamara and President Marin Exler—discussed the new policy’s implications and sent an email to the undergraduate student body with a Google Form where students could voice concerns regarding the policy. The email also included an invitation to a USG-hosted Zoom forum the next day on the issue. These concerns and questions were compiled in a report sent to the administration the following morning by USG and RHA. 

“It is never a good idea to send anything half-baked to administrators, so we knew we could only send information once we were 100% confident in its caliber, and we were all very proud of releasing something of that quality with such a quick turnaround,” Gould said.

The university has responded to the report and confirmed some changes to their policies.

“The university does not at this time anticipate a need to enter any more residence halls (besides Kusch House, Glaser House and Property Management Apartments) to remove belongings of students who have not yet moved out,” Gould said. “That being said, this situation is fluid and may change if the city or state require additional residence halls to be emptied.”

USG and RHA’s report revealed the dismay and feeling of betrayal felt by students, who did not expect the university to reverse its decision to allow students to keep their belongings in their rooms.

“[The decision] was kind of a shock,” said second-year Emily Roque, who had already returned home to Florida. “Because, a week after the last move out day (March 22), we all get an email. I was expecting to go back to campus in a couple of months and just move out my own things. So, I was really surprised and my parents were really surprised, especially because there wasn’t really a clear answer in the first email.”

Many students’ complaints stem from the university’s ambiguous and incomplete communications that have persisted throughout its coronavirus response.

“We initially were only told half the reason they wanted to move students’ belongings,” said RHA President Douglas Spizarny. “We were told this was to allow students to isolate while on campus, what was failed to be mentioned in that initial email was that select buildings were also going to be used for healthcare professionals, which was announced in a later email.”

Stark and Jamieson had initially explained that buildings would be evacuated to allow students remaining on campus to better isolate themselves; however, even before students received the notice on March 26 that their belongings were being packed up, media outlets were reporting that some CWRU dorm rooms would house healthcare providers fighting COVID-19.

“[CWRU] (along with Cleveland State University) is also stepping up and evaluating their on-campus housing as a space to provide rooms for healthcare workers who cannot return home to their families,” reported Kelly Kennedy in an article published on March 24 for Channel 19 News. “[CWRU] told 19 News that 90% of their students are already moved out too so they have space.” 

Select students first learned about this plan on March 27 when Stark and Jamieson sent an email exclusively to students who had not yet moved out. 

“This week, state officials here said they expect that hospitals will need spaces in ‘hotels and dormitories.’ We already have been approached by one asking for places for hospital workers to sleep when they cannot go home,” read the email. 

This policy was only communicated to the rest of the undergraduate body on March 29.

“I just want transparency,” said Roque. “It just seems weird that the school can’t give any more information, or you’d think that like doing this, you would just want to cover all your bases.”

While not named in the university’s campus-wide communications, it has become known to The Observer that a moving company called Armbruster Moving & Storage is moving students’ belongings. Armbruster is located in Brunswick, OH about a 30-minute drive from campus. The company boasts several awards, including a 2019 Customer Choice Award and a 2017 Mayflower President’s Quality Award. On Yelp, Armbruster has received 3.5 stars on 12 reviews.

Some students felt that having random moving company employees look through their things without prior consent was a violation of their privacy, especially since some items could get them in legal trouble. 

“I do not consent to third-party individuals entering my room, going through my stuff, and then taking it almost an hour off-campus,” one student told USG. 

“It’s kind of just like you’re forcibly going in my room and then you find all this alcohol and it’s my fault,” said Roque. “Like, I would have just gotten rid of it myself and you would have never known.”

Students were given the option to request time-sensitive items shipped home through a Google Form. 

“First our staff will remove small items these residents designate for shipping, and then movers will pack what remains. A university representative will be with the movers throughout their time on campus,” Stark and Jamieson reassured students in the March 27 email.

Once when their belongings were successfully packed, students were sent an email with a comprehensive inventory that categorized their belongings as boxes, plastic totes, TVs, laptops/computers, bikes, gaming systems, mini-fridges, pieces of luggage and other items, from the Moving Buddy Team.

This email also promised further communication “in regard to your desired delivery method for your items. These options will include; 1) on-campus delivery fall semester 2020, 2) delivery to a destination of your choice, 3) or warehouse pick-up (currently suspended due to COVID-19).” 

Still, students are still concerned about the care of their personal items—both of monetary and sentimental value. 

“I have military gear in the common area of my suite and inside my room … The

equipment [is worth thousands of dollars and] must be cleaned so mold does not grow on [it] and damage it,” one student laments in the USG report.

“Personally, I left old, fragile watercolor paintings in my room that were painted by my deceased grandmother,” said another student. “I highly doubt they will survive being shoved in a box, thrown on a truck and put in a storage unit.”