While Northeastern has committed to reopening our campus in an efficient and safe manner, not all of its plans were flawlessly executed. ResMail specifically falls in this category.
Ten thousand students moved onto campus in the span of less than two weeks and were only allowed to bring what could fit in one hamper up to their residence halls. The instructions advised students to “bring only your essentials and a few personal touches to campus” and assured that additional items could be shipped. This is where the true issue with ResMail lies. Students were warned not to ship essential items in the first few days because the university was expecting large volumes. However, as we enter our third week on campus, the delayed processing times, long lines and inefficient setup persist and students are still unable to retrieve vital packages.
Northeastern University spent upwards of $50 million on reopening the campus for testing, sanitation, NUflex and even purchasing off-campus housing. They made serious efforts to bring students back and ensure a safe and seamless transition into hybrid learning. Given this immense spending, it’s surprising that ResMail, an integral part of the system, is lacking. Northeastern temporarily relocated ResMail from Speare Commons to Matthews Arena to reduce traffic, but students are still met with wait times exceeding 45 minutes, agitated staff and even lost and damaged packages. Items like medications, ballots, technological devices and cleaning products are lost in the mountain of mail that sits in Matthews as the backlog grows each day.
While I’ve noticed some staff not wearing their masks properly and eating and drinking while working with students with no sanitation in between, let one thing be perfectly clear: mail staff are not at fault for the extended wait times. In fact, I’ve witnessed some of them work beyond their shift hours to help me and other students.
However, ResMail’s shortcomings are ridiculous when compared to how strong other Northeastern operations perform. The testing site at the Cabot Physical Education Center processes up to 7,000 COVID-19 tests a day. That’s thousands of swabs performed, sampled, tested and logged on a daily basis with the cooperation of different medical and administrative institutions. I’ll give Northeastern this, it’s nothing less than impressive. This becomes incredibly frustrating that this behemoth of a testing site is down the street from a highly inefficient mail center.
The current system, per usual, requires students to scan their Husky Card and then the mail staff writes down the tracking number on the nearest piece of paper. Then, by using the size of the package (small, medium, large) and date it was processed, they head into the rows and rows of boxes to find it. It’s impressive how quickly they find many of the packages, but the main problem with ResMail is not what happens when you scan your card — it’s getting to the front of the line.
Funding and organization are the root of the problems ResMail faces. Northeastern should invest more money into ResMail by hiring more workers, expanding the space and implementing a sorting system that expedites wait time. There are plenty of ways to sort packages inside the facility such as by last name, NUID or package IDs to reduce the time spent inside. Outside of Matthews, the mail lines can exceed 100 students depending on the time of day. Backlogs prevent packages from getting to their recipients for weeks at a time, sometimes resulting in emails sent to students to pick up packages that aren’t ready. In addition, while the majority of students wear face masks and maintain distance in line,I cannot ignore the issue of having so many people together for so long, not to mention the potential issues as winter approaches. In classrooms, dining lines and even at Cabot, “crowds” can grow quickly, but they also shrink at a comparable rate.
I propose a two-part pickup system. One system will have a scheduled pickup time at Matthews Arena and will require confirmation of appointment upon arrival. The other system will have “walk-ins” where students will reserve a digital space in line, which is similar to Yelp so students can wait at another location until their package is ready. Once you’re near the front of the virtual line, you will receive a notification to head to Matthews Arena, where they’ll merge with the queue of scheduled appointments. This dual system would lower the number of stagnant bodies outside the arena, encourage scheduled appointments and efficiently allow spontaneous pickups. Software for this system is not an issue, as Northeastern utilizes similar applications for COVID-19 testing and the RedEye safety escort service.
That being said, funding problems plague the system as a whole. Scrap paper and a glorified game of “I Spy” seem outdated next to some of the other technology in place on campus. Between the election and COVID-19 restrictions, our mail system needs to be exceptional. ResMail as it currently “functions” does not meet the standard that Northeastern has set for this semester. I know there is money available to fix this problem, so the real question is whether or not Northeastern is ready to acknowledge its mess and deliver on its promise for a safe and efficient semester.
Ethan Wayne is a first-year communication studies major. He can be reached at [email protected]