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Students may either pick up their belongings, have them shipped, or have the University continue storing them until January 2021. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

For many students that opted to have their belongings packed and stored for the summer by University-sanctioned moving companies, retrieving their items before January will be a lengthy and costly endeavor. 

Residential Services wrote in an email to students on Aug. 18 that students who wish to retrieve their belongings can either pick them up for free from the Penn Tennis Center located on 31st and Walnut streets from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, excluding Aug. 30, or have their items shipped to them at their own expense. If students do not wish to retrieve their belongings, the University will cover the cost of storing students’ items until January 2021.

Students can also opt to pick up their items from their assigned moving company’s warehouse for free. If moving companies incur additional fees for pick up, Director of Communications for Business Services Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that Residential Services will cover these costs, such as School Storage's "$65 pull fee" to pick up from their facility in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Many students, however, feel that they should not have to incur expensive shipping fees or risk contracting coronavirus on the trek to the Penn Tennis Center or their moving company's warehouse to retrieve their belongings. Students are calling on the University to subsidize the cost of shipping or pay for it entirely.

Others find it unfair that, in some cases, students have to pay upwards of two to three times more than their peers depending on what moving company was assigned to them in May. Despite promises from Residential Services, many students were also unable to video call moving companies during the packing process and therefore could not arrange to have certain priority items shipped home and the rest stored.

For rising College sophomore Poojita Chinmay, who resides in Georgia, the option to pick up items from the Tennis Center or her storage company’s warehouse in New Jersey is not feasible, and shipping just two boxes to her home in Atlanta would cost her $208, Sinclair Moving & Storage wrote her in an email.

"I think it's just frustrating that I've gotten to this point where I've just given up hope on my belongings," Chinmay said.

Some students said that they are struggling to calculate the cost of shipping, because they do not know how their items were packed or how many boxes they have. Neither School Storage nor Sinclair Moving & Storage list shipping rates on their websites.

Rising College sophomore Michelle Fang expressed frustration with her assigned moving company, School Storage, which she said has not been forthright about the costs of shipping items. After indicating on a form that she wanted her items shipped to her home in California, School Storage asked her to commit to paying the full cost of shipping without telling her how much that would amount to.

A diagram illustrating how students will pick up their belongings from the Tennis Center.

Many students also believe that neither shipping items home nor picking them up at the Penn Tennis Center is accessible to low-income students who may not be able to incur additional expenses that come during this financially uncertain time. While picking up items at the Penn Tennis Center is free, students who live far from Philadelphia will have to finance their own travel plans.

“If you're on financial aid and you need your stuff back, Penn should be able to at least pay part of the costs of your shipping,” rising College sophomore Rebecca Hennessey said.

Lea-Kruger did not respond to a DP inquiry about whether Penn is doing anything to help aid low-income students who cannot afford to ship their items back home.

Although Residential Services told students they would have the opportunity to video call with their assigned moving company during the packing process, very few students had the opportunity to do so, leaving many students in limbo about the packing process.

Rising College sophomore Doulton Howe, who hails from Hawaii, said that the process of retrieving items would have been more cost-efficient if students were able to video call their moving companies and arrange to have certain priority items shipped home and the rest stored.

“Because we didn’t get a video call with our moving companies, there was no way for me to communicate to the movers to put certain items in certain boxes based on what I needed shipped to me immediately,” Howe said.

Rising Wharton sophomore Sahiba Baveja, who was never contacted by her moving company about a video call, echoed Howe’s thoughts, adding that Penn should ship one box of essential items to students for free and subsidize the rest of the shipping costs.

“There are so many expensive things in my room, like my calculator, and now I have to purchase a new one," Baveja said. "I don’t have textbooks or old notes from other classes either.”

Institutions such as Duke University and Northwestern University allowed returning students to ship up to four boxes and unlimited boxes, respectively, for free.

Of the 11 students interviewed by The Daily Pennsylvanian in July, not one was able to schedule a video call with their moving company. Some students were never contacted by their assigned moving company or were contacted after their rooms had already been packed.

School Storage, however, will require each roommate in shared bedrooms who “missed” or were unable to schedule their video calls to each pay $75 for set up and $45 per hour for inspection and repacking if necessary, according to an email from School Storage.

Procedures, shipping costs, and the cost of storage past January 2021 — which Residential Services will not subsidize — differ across moving companies, which Residential Services assigned to students in May. For storage, Sinclair Moving & Storage charges a flat rate of $55 per month, while School Storage charges $6.95 per month for any standard sized items and $12.95 per month for items that require two people to lift and move.

"In order to manage the volume of storage and shipping for over 2,500 students, [Residential Services] had to work with several packing and shipping companies. Each company has their own protocols for managing students’ storage," Lea-Kruger wrote to the DP. 

Rising Wharton and College sophomore Ananya Dewan, who lives in Nevada, said Residential Services should subsidize each student so that regardless of their assigned moving companies, all students would pay equivalent rates for extended storage or shipping.

“It's definitely unfair, because I know some of my friends will have to pay around $140 per month for storage, whereas I'm paying a flat rate of $55,” Dewan said.

Rising College sophomore Heather Schneps said that throughout this process, the University has overlooked the importance of retrieving personal belongings and the implications that it has for students’ mental health and financial situations.

“I don't think students should be expected to pay just to have their personal belongings, especially when they were discouraged for safety reasons to retrieve them from Philadelphia after Spring Break,” Schneps said. “To act like it is completely normal for kids to go a year without most of their items is a little ridiculous.”

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.