After contradicting emails, Columbia clarifies policy on retrieving belongings from dorms

By Blaise Mesa, Executive Producer

Steven Nunez
The Dwight Lofts dorm building, 642 S. Clark St., lies empty after students were forced to vacate in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After a backlash from some dormitory residents, the college has informed students that they have until May 10 to remove their belongings.

The college sent a Tuesday, April 14 email to residents clarifying earlier messages some found confusing. The most recent email clarified that students had until May 10 to move out of dorms, but the college will allow more time for students in certain circumstances, according to Dean of Students John Pelrine.

After initially instructing students in a March 18 email not to return to campus to collect their belongings from closed residence halls due to Illinois’ stay-at-home order, the college sent an April 3 email to students instructing them to sign up for move-out dates while the mandate was still in place.

The most recent email appears to be in response to students who felt unfairly pressured.

Pushback from those in the Columbia community made it “clear that this is problematic for some people,” Pelrine said on April 15.

Pelrine said the college does not know what it will do with items left behind in the dorms, although it will not allow personal items to be discarded.

In an April 22 email to the Chronicle, Pelrine said despite shelter-in-place possibly being extended through June, the college is not updating its dorm policies.

“We are monitoring government statements and discussing various scenarios,” Pelrine said. “We are in on-going conversations with the property owners.”

Since the college does not own any of the dormitory buildings, Columbia has until May 17 to clear the residence halls before it is penalized by the property companies, Pelrine said. If the units are not vacated, Pelrine estimated potential fines for the college could be around 150% of “the rent on that apartment,” although fines vary by the property company.

As of press time, 340 students had not yet signed up for a time to retrieve their belongings. However, Pelrine said it is possible these students could have already moved out without officially checking out with Residence Life.

“We don’t know their final status,” he said. “We did think some of them moved everything out and didn’t tell us.”

There are 2,271 students who are from outside of Chicago who were living in the Dwight, 30 East, University Center, The Arc or The Flats at East West University residence halls in the Fall 2019 semester, according to the college’s Institutional Effectiveness data.

Although extending the move-out time slots to May 10 solved issues for some, others are still concerned about the safety of moving belongings given the pandemic.

After reading over the most recent update that detailed social distancing measures, such as only allowing a certain number of people to move out each day, Madeline Brittingham, a senior music business management major and resident assistant at the 30 East dorm, still foresees difficulties moving out.

Brittingham still does not feel safe heading to Chicago and said impending travel restrictions in Iowa could make crossing the state border difficult. In fact, she said she would not be surprised if she was unable to make it back downtown.

At the same time, the college is not permitting most employees to be on campus until June 1, Pelrine said.

“We are not going to make anyone come,” he said. “We are trying to be sensitive to people’s situations, but we are also hearing from people loud and clear. … They want to come and get their stuff, so we [made] this option available for people.”

Pelrine said students can hire moving companies to avoid trips to Chicago, and the April 14 email update listed Dorm Room Movers and Campus Storage LLC as companies residents could use.

Brittingham does not want to hire a moving company to avoid putting anyone else at risk.

“I don’t feel comfortable making someone else do that, that seems selfish to me,” she said. “But I guess maybe now is the time to be selfish.”

D’Mya Tabron, a junior theatre design and technology major and resident assistant at the Arc, has not moved her belongings out of the dorms yet but has signed up. She is concerned about moving during a shelter-in-place order, but said the most recent email from Residence Life addressed most of her concerns.

Tabron said the initial email the college sent in March should have told students to take more items with them. If she had known she was not returning to her dorm in mid-March, she said she would have taken everything with her before she returned home to Michigan and would not have to worry about moving out during the lockdown.

Overall, Pelrine said the college has handled the move-out process “fairly well.”

“Are we getting everything perfect? No, I don’t think we are,” Pelrine said. “But under the circumstances with the information we had at the moment, I think we’ve done OK.”