Administrators Begin Clearing Storage in Brown Gym
Six months into the pandemic, students are being asked to retrieve their belongings from the gym.By Devin Hartzell | Published 09/28/2020
As students were evacuated from campus in mid-March, the institute offered free storage in Brown Gym. Now, six months later, with no immediate timeline for students to return to campus, administrators are asking that the gym be cleared. An email sent on September 10th to students with belongings in storage asks that “all students who can come get their things do so by October 1, 2020.”
While many students interpreted this as a deadline, this interpretation is flawed, according to Felicia Hunt, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs & Residential Experience. “We just wanted a timeframe,” she said, emphasizing that asking students to retrieve their belongings was the first step in the long process of reuniting students with their belongings.
Many students don’t immediately need their things back. “The things in storage are thankfully not things I need soon, because I was able to pack up what I need at the end of spring term,” said Alex Cui (CS ‘21, Blacker). However, organizing off-campus storage is still a burden for others. “For an international student it’s impossible to store my items in the U.S,” said Bilge Gungoren (ChE ‘23, Blacker), who is still considering whether or not she wants to retrieve her items.
The email did not mention administrators’ reasons for needing to clear the gym. According to Joe Jordan, Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities, it was prompted by the August 12 closure of in-person higher education activities by the County of Los Angeles.
“In March, it was the right thing to do and we stand by that,” says Jordan, who emphasized that “the goal was to help students evacuate campus as quickly as possible.” Now, with no clear timeline for students’ return to campus, Jordan wants to avoid storing students’ belongings indefinitely and help students retrieve their items when possible. According to Jordan, “we knew in the moment we needed to assist students with their belongings, without regard for how items would eventually be retrieved. Many students now have the opportunity to do so.”
Jordan cited Brown Gym as an area used for research and an eventual space for physical education and recreational activity to return to again.
Jordan also cited the need for Brown Gym’s use as an emergency evacuation site. According to Catherine Christensen, the Emergency Preparedness & Business Continuity Program Manager at Caltech, “Brown Gym is identified as a location that may be used for temporary shelter for students or as a gathering location to centrally locate the campus’ in-residence population in the event of an emergency.” The City of Pasadena does not include Brown Gym as a part of its emergency plans.
Jordan says that the department and administration will make announcements regarding future uses of the gym. As of September 23rd, the bouldering cave adjacent to the gym has reopened for use, in line with the guidance from Los Angeles county allowing outdoor gym activity.
The task of returning students’ belongings has already been accomplished for the seniors who graduated in June. According to Hunt, the Office of Residential Experience coordinated with shipping companies throughout August to return seniors’ belongings. Seniors were video-called by institute staff to determine which belongings they wanted to keep.
The current push for returning students to collect their belongings is the next phase in the process. According to Hunt, no decisions have been made regarding how students' belongings will be stored or returned. “We want to return students’ items in an appropriate, timely manner and don’t want to inconvenience people,” said Hunt, emphasizing that plans can only be made once the office knows how many items still need to be stored.
Indeed, traveling to Pasadena to pick up items left in storage is out of the question for many students. “I would need to fly to California from Canada to get my stuff, which is really expensive and also would require me to do a 14-day quarantine when I get back,” said Cui.
However, there are efforts among alumni groups and houses to organize off-campus storage. The Student Defense Initiative (SDI), a non-profit founded in 2013 to provide Caltech students with legal aid and preserve student culture, is soliciting donations from alumni to organize storage for students who cannot retrieve their items.
According to Jason Cerundolo (BS ‘09, Blacker/Ricketts), the President of SDI, the initiative has raised more than $1000 since sending out an appeal to Alumni Thursday morning. Several have joined a patreon as well. The role of the SDI is largely to support student initiatives; Lloyd and Ruddock Houses are organizing storage off campus, and the initiative is helping channel alumni donations to fund it. The SDI is coordinating with the Interhouse Committee to ensure that all students have access to storage, should they need it.
However, according to Hunt, “we’ve not asked students to find outside solutions to this at this point, we’re just asking students to come get their stuff if they can.”