Meet Rafa: The Amazon Hub Locker that no one knows about

Image courtesy of Julia Barnett ’24.

It stands still and sturdy, hidden in the shadow of Jewett’s tower. The segmented lockers join together in a rectangular prism of cool metal and matte grey. It is unassuming, but powerful. It is silent in its existence, but its message is clear: “Order a Amazon, pick up here.” No one knows if this is a grammatical error or a puzzling riddle. Nonetheless, Rafa stands confidently in its lonely corner; it is none other than an Amazon Hub Locker. 

Amazon Hub Lockers are nothing new, having been rolled out to the public for the first time in 2011, according to Business Insider. You might have seen them in Whole Foods, Rite Aid or other businesses that have partnered with Amazon to install these automatons. The Amazon website boasts the ability to self-serve in both collecting and returning packages through these lockers. One of the major advantages they posit is the locker’s ability to work around the schedule of the customer. We all love the beautiful walks to Central, but the 4 p.m. closing time is less than accommodating. Therefore, these lockers could proudly serve and enable night owls, busy bodies, 9-5’ers and I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed-to-walk-to-central’ers. They do impose a time limit of three calendar days by which you have to pick up any packages; this information is provided at checkout. Finally, there are only certain eligible items that can be delivered to these lockers—those of dimensions 16 by 12 by 14 inches with a weight of 10 pounds or less—so it’s not the end-all-be-all solution for deliveries to and from campus.

The campus welcomed our new student, Rafa, on Jan. 18, 2023. Rafa is a bulky 48-locker unit happily ensconced in its corner of the Jewett parking lot. As to how this unit ended up on campus, I spoke to Director of Procurement and Auxiliary Services Rosaleen Cardillo.

Image courtesy of Julia Barnett ’24.

Cardillo commented, “​​Amazon approached the College to partner as they are doing with many other colleges and universities.” Over the past few years, Amazon has done similar installations at Boston College and the College of Charleston. The decision to install Rafa was ultimately reached to improve service for the Campus Community. Vassar did not pay any purchasing or installation costs for the unit. 

Cardillo continued in stating that the process of installation was not motivated by an incentive or connection with Amazon, but through the data and trends they have seen in Amazon deliveries. The number of Amazon packages that filter through the Mailroom and Central Receiving is growing, and despite our best efforts to shop locally we as a community have contributed to that. For those of us who went through the Vassar bubble, COVID-19 era, the inability to leave campus to obtain basic goods left us with a default mentality to order online. Regardless of how we have contributed to the trends, the fact remains that Vassar receives a number of Amazon packages each day. This unit provides an alternative collection point for such deliveries which could decrease the stress on both the Mailroom and Receiving, resulting in faster processing times and overall increased service. 

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room: It’s Amazon. The company is famous for inhumane treatment of its employees. The heavily advertised unit of lockers represents a partnership between Vassar and Amazon, something that appears antithetical to some student’s opinions. Slightly less invasive than the elephant, but still prominent is the manatee in the room: What about small businesses? I approached Cardillo with the fact that Vassar prominently encourages students to support the restaurants and stores on Raymond Avenue and beyond. Munchie Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays, Farmers’ Markets and Arlington Bucks are all Vassar-run incentives aimed to motivate students to engage with local vendors. Despite these efforts, they chose to support a bigger brand like Amazon through this locker. Cardillo responded: “Vassar will continue to support small and community businesses in the area.” However, she once again indicated, “Amazon approached the College about this opportunity because of the volume of Amazon packages regularly sent to the campus.”

Image courtesy of Julia Barnett ’24.

The College is in the process of finishing testing on the unit and releasing its own announcement, but in the meantime, I’ve stepped into the role of “Amazon-Locker informer.” While my friends were sufficiently tired of hearing me talk about it, each one of the 15 students I spoke to were rather mystified about its presence on campus. Not one of them had heard about it, and many expressed their confusion, others apprehension, some bewilderment. In general, there was a shared response of why? After speaking to these students about their ordering habits, I was met with the sobering realization that it’s not too cool to order from Amazon anymore. None of them had gone cold-turkey, as they all admitted to ordering from Amazon a few times a semester for the odds and ends of living, but they each maintained that it was not frequent enough to warrant an Amazon-specific drop-off point. 

Regardless of where they live on campus, the consensus was that this unit is not relevant to Vassar’s culture. Nate Grosjean ’24, a Raymond resident, and Pooja Huded ’25, a proud Jewett owl, highlighted that the walk to Central is a nice incentive to get outside and breathe some fresh air. Common was the idea that having a dedicated space for Amazon packages encourages a big-box, capitalistic identity. Huded continued in saying she doesn’t “think we should or need to support such a large corporation… that is already reaping profits by underpaying and mistreating employees, as well as by fostering a culture of reckless consumerism.” Despite its convenience, the unit embodies a materialistic mindset that is unbecoming on Vassar’s campus. 

Risking my popularity, I took it upon myself to test Rafa’s potential. Having received an email that my package was ready for pick up, I ventured out into the cold to collect my loot. Rafa uses bluetooth and the Amazon app to ensure a secure pick-up. Once connected, I pressed “pick-up” and, like magic, the box containing my Aveeno moisturizer revealed itself. Those around me heard my squeals of excitement and awe as I removed my box, closed the door and left Rafa to its devices. I would absolutely do it again. 

Rafa served me well, but I understand the apprehension towards the unit. While it does feel pivoted towards supporting one particular brand, I feel confident that it will serve as a mechanism to redistribute Amazon packages across campus. Based on my conversations with students, I don’t believe this will lead to an increased frequency of Amazon orders, but it will provide alternative locations for pickup. Those who do not frequent the Amazon website will continue to be unimpressed by the company, while those who do may be relieved at having a more localized collection point. Having picked up my package on a Monday evening, I was not subject to the hours of operation by Central Receiving or the Mailroom. While my lotion was not a high-priority item, this accessibility could be invaluable for those who need immediate access to items on weekends or evenings. If you’re interested, give Rafa a chance. Do your part to support small businesses first and foremost, but if you find yourself placing an Amazon order send it to Rafa. Take that nap from 3 to 4 p.m. and miss the Central window. Order something on a Saturday, and receive it on a Sunday. Go wild, but always try to buy responsibly and sustainably! 

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