Student population divided on the college’s decision to pack belongings left on campus

The decision by Allegheny College to pack student belongings remaining on campus, following the switch to remote instruction in mid-March, has caused a divide in the student population. In an email sent out by Dean of Students April Thompson on Tuesday, May 5, the college outlined a plan to send employees into student dormitories to pack and relocate returning students’ belongings to their fall residences. 

This decision created controversy within the campus community. In five days, over 1800 students, parents, and alumni signed the petition created by Grace Bothwell, ’23, to urge the college to reconsider. 

Bothwell wrote an email to the Meadville Tribune to express her discontent with the college’s decision. According to the Meadville Tribune, Bothwell acknowledged that she cannot comprehend the intricacies of the decision, however, she feels that the existing student population was left out of the discussion.

“It feels like, again, they left student opinion out of their planning,” Bothwell said. “Their plans feel more geared towards the incoming class and having things running in the fall than towards current students and graduating seniors.”

Bothwell was joined by a large portion of the campus community as students, parents and alumni took to social media to voice their concerns with the decision. Comments on the petition ranged from disagreement and disappointment to urging members of the community to contact their local representatives to protest the decision. 

One student, Amir Megherhi, ’21, created a video on his YouTube channel to voice his opinion about the situation.

“I agree that the plan that Allegheny has in place is the safest option for all parties, given our current circumstances,” said Megherhi in his video. “There is nothing more important than human lives and we all must do everything we can to protect one another.”

Megherhi indicated that while he believes that this is the safest option available at the time, the current situation could have been avoided altogether by the administration. 

“The administration was telling us that they had been coming up with a safe and efficient plan to allow students back onto campus to retrieve their belongings,” Megherhi said. “In light of our current situation and the duration of the time that we have been in this pandemic, I think that they made a good choice not to allow everyone back onto campus but I believe we were misled for a long time.”

On April 24, President Hilary Link reached out to the campus community on Instagram. In her livestream, she mentioned that the college had drafted a plan for students to retrieve their belongings that had yet to be announced. 

Link engaged in a question and answer segment with students via the livestream, where she reiterated the sentiment that the goal of the college is to return for the fall semester, although they were still unaware of whether or not this could occur. 

“The question about when we are going to know if we will be on campus or online was already answered but …  we simply do not know yet, but our hope and plan is to be on campus when possible,” said Link in the livestream.

The decision was announced at the conclusion of the spring semester, on May 5. 

In response to the backlash, Link sent an email to the student population on Saturday, May 7, that detailed the context surrounding the decision to have volunteers pack student belongings. 

“It goes without saying that we have a fundamental respect for property rights, and we, of course, want all of our students to have their belongings; nor do we have any interest in going through your personal belongings, taking or breaking your things, or mishandling your property,” Link wrote. “We want you all to have your things; but we have to go about this, and everything, with the safety of our campus as our highest guiding principle. After hearing your concerns, we understand that the expense of shipping creates a hardship for most families, so the College will pay for shipping your needed belongings.”

Link indicated that she is optimistic about the college’s ability to re-open in the fall. In order to reopen, the college must take all necessary precautions to avoid further exposure to the virus, according to Link. 

I believe that fundamentally we all want the same thing: to be together again as a community as soon as possible, in the safest way,” Link wrote in the email. “I hope you know how hard each and every staff member, faculty member and administrator has worked and continues to work to support each of you during what we know is an anxiety-provoking, painful, sad and challenging time.”

The college has decided to add several revisions to the existing plan. Students who live in the surrounding area can retrieve their packed belongings via curbside pick up. Students that are unable to retrieve their belongings using this method can have their items stored in their fall residence or shipped to their address at no cost to the student. 

Among criticism, several students, parents and alumni have offered gratitude for the work that Link and the administrators have done following the college’s closing in March. 

The email that was sent to the campus community on Thursday featured a recorded video conference between Link, Thompson and Derek Li from the Office of College Relations. The video conference further explained the context surrounding the decision-making process. The college is well aware of the community’s concerns and has engaged on a personal-level with several parents and students, according to Link. 

“Because we have respect for students’ property, we will promise to be respectful stewards of any private property that is here and we would never do otherwise,” Link said in the video. 

Despite the further explanation from the college, the campus community remains divided. The petition is still gaining signatures and state representatives are being called on behalf of the student population. While some believe that this is the best option available to protect students, faculty and the greater surrounding area, others believe that it is inappropriate and an invasion of privacy.