Boston University students remain scattered across the globe without much of their belongings. After the school released a residence packing policy that does not offer postal shipping to international addresses, some are now petitioning to request a reevaluation.
The University shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic left most students separated from their personal belongings. It was unclear when students would be able to access their items until BU Housing released its plan on May 8.
BU Housing announced that students can retrieve their items throughout June or have the University pack then store them in Boston or ship them within the continental U.S.
This leaves the nearly 30-percent international community within BU with no choice but to ship their items to a domestic address or wait to unpack them from storage, causing indignation among affected students.
The petition, which went live May 11, can be found on Change.org and currently has more than 400 signatures with a goal of 500.
Ariane Vigna, a co-creator of the petition and sophomore in the College of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences, is an international student from France. Vigna said she began drafting the petition almost immediately after receiving the email outlining the plan.
“As soon as I saw it, I got frustrated because I saw that international students really didn’t have the same options as domestic students,” Vigna said. “It was a little unfair.”
The petition asks that BU consider shipping items left behind by international students “regardless of which party holds burdens on the cost of shipping” and outlines courses of action the University could take to help international students get their belongings back.
It lays out three potential choices: ship all international students’ belongings to them at no cost to students; ship only the items deemed essential — medication, IDs and official papers — at no cost to students; or ship essential items at no cost and nonessential items at the students’ cost and create a shipping-credit system to account for the expenses.
These options would be reasonable, Vigna said, considering the administration’s lack of communication at the beginning of the pandemic left many students unaware of a potential need to pack.
A March 11 email from President Robert Brown informed students that classes would be held online until April 13 and that they should not return to campus after Spring Recess if possible.
When the campus closure was extended to the end of the semester on March 17, students who chose to remain off-campus were separated from their belongings without clarity on whether they should get their belongings out of dorms before the March 22 deadline.
In an email March 18, Housing stated that students should not return to campus and that items would be packed for them.
Vigna said she does not expect anything more than the petition asks for and said it is not an issue of money.
“We’re not asking for unreasonable, free shipping of every single item,” Vigna said. “We recognize that the University has had extraordinary costs during this whole pandemic.”
BU spokesperson Colin Riley was unable to comment on the matter.
Daiki Tsumagari, a petition co-creator and junior in CAS, is a resident of Japan currently living on campus for the summer. He said BU didn’t properly prepare students for the pandemic.
“The University didn’t give us adequate response time to prepare for the events,” Tsumugari said. “Because the University was only a couple days late in notifying us after the start of spring break, most students left behind personal items that they would have otherwise brought home with them, and now they’re not giving us a way to access it.”
Tsumagaria added that the current shipping plan doesn’t account for international students who don’t have contacts in the U.S. where items could be shipped.
“It was based around the assumption that every international student has an American address, a friend or family or just any other address that they could send their items to,” Tsumagaria said, “with the idea that their belongings would be held for an indefinite period of time.”
The options provided by the BU Housing email did not include any provisions for international students who may have left important items such as medication, important documents or IDs.
CAS sophomore Anastasia Eremina lives in Russia, where she can’t leave her home without presenting some form of Russian ID, which, for her, still sits in her BU dorm.
“I repeatedly asked BU Housing to ship it to me at my own cost,” Eremina said. “They said they couldn’t do it.”
Not having access to her belongings affects Eremina’s plans to study abroad in the fall 2020 semester, she said.
“Most of my stuff is in Boston,” Eremina said. “I need some of that for my semester abroad, and I’m not really sure how I’m going to get it in time.”
Manuela Victorelli, a CAS freshman from Brazil, said she had received mixed messages in her email correspondences with BU Housing.
“I emailed BU and they told me that they were making it available for us to get our things back through mail,” Victorelli said. “But I recently got the email, just like everyone else, that that only works for domestic addresses.”
Not having certain belongings readily available, Victorelli said, has affected non-academic aspects of life as well.
“A lot of the issues [in the petition] hit really close,” Victorelli said. “My W-4 is in Boston. I’ve been getting emails about how I need to file for tax things but I cannot do it because I don’t have my document, so I’m trying to figure out how to do it online.”
Victorelli said she feels like international students got the shortest end of the stick surrounding BU’s handling of the epidemic.
“This is a moment to be thinking globally, and BU literally didn’t think globally at all,” Victorelli said. “I think it’s important that they did not email us in advance.”