University of Richmond employees removed all items inside refrigerators and freezers as well as visible perishables in unoccupied on-campus residencies April 5-10.
Patrick Benner, director of residence life and housing, informed students in an email sent April 2 that UR employees would be removing items.
“Beginning, Sunday, April 5, University employees will enter each unoccupied residential space to discard all trash, recycle all applicable items, remove and discard all visible perishables, and clean out all refrigerator and freezer units,” Benner wrote. "We will not be unplugging or defrosting any refrigerator units at this time.”
The process was completed on April 10, Benner wrote in an email to The Collegian on April 11.
“Yes, we did clear all items from fridges and freezers and we finished the process for the entire campus yesterday,” Benner wrote. “I am very grateful to the staff in facilities that worked diligently and quickly to assist us in this process. With uncertainty on when we may be able to allow students to return and potential issue with power loss due to weather, etc. we took this necessary precaution. We did not clear pantries, cabinets, etc. and only removed perishables that are visible.
“This was a decision made in conjunction with the Outbreak Control Team, of which I am a part, in conjunction with Emergency Management. It is something we needed to do as a preventative and cautionary measure.”
Brittany Schaal, director of emergency management, could not be reached for comment.
Brandon Johnson, a senior, said he had emailed Benner asking if his food could not be thrown away.
“Within probably 10 minutes of receiving that [April 2] email, I responded to him and asked if there were any way that my food could not be thrown out,” Johnson said, “because I had spent a lot of money on it right before spring break with the intention of leaving stuff in the freezer to last for through the end of the semester.”
Johnson said he understood the need for perishables in fridges to be removed because some items would inevitably go bad, but he did not think that items needed to be removed from freezers.
“At the end of the day, it is our property and our belongings that we invested money in, and I don’t really think it’s their place to go in there and remove it without first asking us for our consent to do so,” Johnson said.
Similar to Johnson, senior Jessica Loos had gone shopping before spring break to stock up on food for the remainder of the semester and emailed Benner about her concerns, Loos said.
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“I had, like, probably like $160 worth of meat frozen in the freezer for this whole semester,” Loos said. “And, so I emailed him about that actually, like, ‘Is there a reason that you guys are removing everything from the freezer that’s actually not perishable at all, and it will be fine if I go back even months later?’”
In Benner’s emailed responses to both Johnson and Loos, obtained by The Collegian, he cited concerns about power loss because of weather as one reason items were removed.
Loos did not agree that removing food from freezers was a necessary precaution, she said.
“I think even if the power were to go out, the power would come back on — [it] usually does — and if the freezer is not open, that’s probably not going to damage any of the items in the freezer,” Loos said.
Johnson agreed that a severe power outage seemed unlikely.
“In my four years at the university, I don’t think there has been a power outage due to weather that has lasted for more than an hour ever,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Benner had also written that UR planned to donate what food items they could, which Johnson said he was grateful for.
Loos did not think alcohol should be removed from refrigerators or freezers because it would not spoil like produce and was worried about her alcohol being removed, she said. Overall, she said she thought the situation could have been handled better.
“I don’t think they have a right to take [alcohol] and to take it without any sort of compensation or, honestly, an apology,” Loos said.
Brier Clough, a senior, said she did not think refrigerators and freezers needed to be completely cleaned out, specifically citing concerns about the removal of frozen food and alcohol. Clough said she did not know what had been taken from her apartment.
“I feel like there has got to be some kind of legal barring of, kind of, like, a removal of things [when] we are not sure what exactly is happening,” Clough said. “Like, we won’t know until we get back what’s been taken. So we have no power over the situation.”
Clough questioned what UR would do if illegal substances were found. Benner had not addressed contraband in his April 2 email.
“If this continues, then there’s problems with, you know, illegal substances and stuff on campus, and I don’t know how they’re going to handle it,” Clough said. “But I’m sure that it has to be considered, like, a problem that deserves amnesty because of everything going on. Like, it’s kind of like an illegal search without a warrant at that point, so it’s just kind of all very questionable right now.”
Junior Rehan Iqbal is currently living alone in a suite-style room on campus and is one of two people living in Freeman Hall, he said. Iqbal panicked when he first heard perishables were going to be removed.
“I kind of had a mini panic attack because I did not know what the motive was,” Iqbal said. “So I thought they were getting rid of stuff because they were planning on moving us out.”
Iqbal said UR had implemented a sticky note system within residence halls to identify occupied rooms.
“They basically leave a sticky note there that says occupied and it says the date,” he said. “So mine says occupied as of April 8, 2020, and then it says my room number.”
Iqbal uses his suitemates’ refrigerator and freezer, with their permission, and was nervous about his food being removed from their unoccupied adjoining room, he said. He said the food in the adjoining room had not been removed as of April 11.
According to the UR housing policies webpage, “University employees may access rooms/apartments in accordance with university policies and procedures, which may be amended at the sole discretion of the University.
“University employees may enter the room for reasons deemed necessary, including but not limited to, emergencies, maintenance, inspections, repairs, inventory, reclaiming University property, health and fire safety inspections, rearranging furniture to accommodate new roommates, removal of abandoned belongings, resolving unsafe or unsanitary conditions.”
Contact managing editor Emma Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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