The task was as Herculean as it was heartbreaking: Pack and ship some 2,000 boxes of books, computers, medications and other essentials to Washington University in St. Louis students across the globe.
“The WashU community really pulled together,” said Kawanna Leggett, executive director of residential life. “What united us was a deep concern for our students. We know our students are feeling stress and anxiety right now, and we want to help in any way we can.”
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin announced on March 11 the transition to online learning and closure of university housing for most residents. With students away for spring break, Leggett and her team, along with Jeff Cooper, director of auxiliary enterprises, developed a plan to recruit, train and deploy some 200 university volunteers across the South 40, the Village, Fraternity Row, the Lofts and university-owned off-campus apartments.
“Our goals were to protect the health and safety of everyone involved and to do our best to honor our students′ spaces,” Leggett said.
Last week, volunteers and residential life staff worked off of forms filled out by students listing what they needed and where it could be found. Once the box was packed, movers added a note from Martin encouraging students to be well and to keep their WashU spirit.
“You got this,” the letter closed.
Not everything could be shipped.
“We found some fish and some gerbils that we′re taking good care of,” Leggett said.
Leggett knows the process has not gone smoothly for every student and said the Office of Residential Life continues to work with families on outstanding issues. But most of the responses have been positive. Ethan Kadet, a sophomore from Minnesota studying international and area studies and sociology, both in Arts & Sciences, received his box of textbooks, notebooks and a calendar March 21. He especially appreciated Martin′s note.
“That was a nice surprise,” Kadet said.
Some 4,575 students live in Office of Residential Life housing both on and off campus. About 350 students have been granted permission to remain on campus.
Plans to ship remaining items are on hold as both St. Louis and St. Louis County have issued mandatory stay-at-home orders. Leggett said all rooms and buildings will remain locked and the Washington University Police Department and Allied Security will continue regular patrols both on and off campus.
If and when residential life staff need more help, Chris Deutschmann, assistant registrar at Olin Business School and mother of a Washington University sophomore, is ready to volunteer again. She spent March 16 packing student items from Park House.
“I just feel for these students,” Deutschmann said. “On one hand, it was sad gathering these items for students, knowing they had to leave campus and their friends so abruptly. But it was also reaffirming that WashU is a place that really cares.”