In recent months, Kenyon has worked to bring its policy on emotional support animals (ESAs) in line with federal regulations and student demands, following a student complaint last semester alleging the College had discriminated against her.
Kenyon had not planned to roll out an ESA policy until the 2016-2017 academic year, according to Erin Salva, director of Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS). The College approved a request made for an ESA made last August by Annaliese Milano ’16, which led to an early evaluation. The College’s policy is intended for those diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability who have had an ESA recommended as part of their treatment. Last semester, Milano requested approval for two guinea pigs to help alleviate the symptoms associated with her bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
In August 2015, when the College had yet to finalize its policy, Milano dealt solely with the Office of Housing and Residential Life. At her doctor’s recommendation, Milano requested a third ESA on Oct. 29 for the spring semester — a dog — to address symptoms of GAD not managed by the guinea pigs. Between her applications, the college altered its ESA application process to include a meeting with SASS.
By the time Milano applied for her dog, Kenyon had changed its policy so SASS ran part of the process. Milano believes Salva’s office made getting an ESA more difficult, but Salva maintained Milano had a harder time acquiring her dog because according to the College policy, only one ESA is allowed in general due to space and roommate considerations.
The ESA committee denied Milano’s application for a third ESA at first, and then granted her the request after she appealed to Dean of Students Hank Toutain.
“It seems to me that they asked for a lot more information than they should have asked for and gave me a much harder time than they should have done,” Milano said.
“I think it’s going to be a period of time where students realize that this is a big commitment,” Salva said, referring to ESA implementation generally. “As much as it can be a support, it’s also going to require a lot of effort on their part.”
Milano described the process of obtaining approval for an ESA in an article on the Thrill, where she serves as editor emerita. Her Thrill article prompted Linda Smolak, deputy civil rights coordinator/Title IX coordinator, to contact Milano to discuss her options because the interaction Milano described potentially constituted disability-based discrimination.
After consulting with Smolak, Milano chose to file a complaint against Salva under Section 504, a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Discrimination Investigation Report in the case, which Civil Rights Coordinator Andrea Goldblum made on Jan. 16, ruled Salva did not discriminate against Milano, but recommended that students applying for an ESA be given access to the specific policy they were applying under.
Emma Welsh-Huggins ’17, whose ESA is a cat, completed her application process last semester before Milano wrote her article, but said she would have had misgivings about applying after reading about Milano’s experience.
“I think I would have been much more hesitant to actually apply and go through the process after seeing that article,” Welsh-Huggins said. “Because I would not have felt comfortable asking for help in that way seeing that she had asked for help in the way that she did and was just pushed down.”
In contrast to Milano, Welsh-Huggins found the process simple. Once she and her Kenyon counselor decided to apply for an ESA, Welsh-Huggins filled out housing accommodation paperwork with Salva, received approval from the College within a week, then met with Lisa Train, associate director for housing and residential life, to complete the ESA agreement form, which outlines responsibilities for the student involving cleanliness, noise, smell, and related concerns and is intended to mitigate conflicts with dorm-mates.
She had a positive experience with SASS and found Salva understanding and supportive.
There are currently nine approved ESAs on campus belonging to six different owners, according to Salva. Seven students requested ESAs for the 2016-2017 academic year; two students requested reapproval.
The accommodation committee has approved all ESA requests to date, save for one case in which a student requested a second ESA.
Per the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kenyon cannot designate a specific ESA building, because it cannot deny access to a certain type of housing because of a disability.
The school has made Gund, Mather, Manning and Farr Residence Halls “animal-free” housing, an arrangement that satisfies federal regulations.