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Who's packing up the 1,000+ student requests for ‘essential’ items?

Duke offered to ship “essential” items home to undergraduates, but who’s doing the packing?

About 150 employee volunteers, in addition to Housing and Residential Life staff, have signed up to pack students' belongings from their on-campus rooms to be shipped back to them, according to Lisa Beth Bergene, senior associate dean of housing and residence life on East Campus. More than 1,000 requests from 861 students were submitted to HRL for the return of their essential items they left on campus, said Joe Gonzalez, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life.

Gonzalez initially emailed students March 13 with a list of needed items Duke will and won’t send back to them, along with a procedure for how students can request certain belongings to be shipped. Many volunteers called or FaceTimed students to ask for guidance in finding belongings in their rooms, Gonzalez noted.

“Dean Joe sent out a wide call for volunteers throughout the university to help and all of these individuals volunteered to be part of the packing and shipping process,” she wrote.

The volunteer team included students and employees from Duke Recreation, Religious Life, Trinity Deans, Academic Advising and other Duke organizations, Bergene wrote. The volunteers worked in three or four hour shifts throughout the day, Gonzalez said, alongside the help of the housing staff. There were three packing teams, Begene added, with two on West Campus—one of which is also for 300 Swift rooms—and one on East Campus. 

Planning and preparation for the process began Saturday, such as creating inventory and mailing labels, and the volunteers started shipping items Tuesday, March 17. Gonzalez said that all items have been shipped by Wednesday.

Some of the essential belongings Duke can ship students are items like laptops, passports and academic materials for current courses. Duke can’t send items such as prescription medications, clothing and bedding. Duke is prioritizing shipping academically-related materials, according to an email from Debbie Lo Biondo, senior associate dean for West Campus.

To ensure safety and security throughout the process, Gonzalez said he consulted with Student Health and the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office. He noted that a team of two volunteers, provided with gloves and masks, entered dorm rooms as a pair to ensure volunteers were never in a student’s room alone. 

Students will not receive disciplinary action for anything found in their room, according to Lo Biondo’s email.

“I don’t know if I have been more proud of an effort than this one and what I saw people do to make it happen,” Gonzalez said. “The response from the University community was outstanding.”


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