Section: Opinion

Revising ESA policy will benefit students

This semester, I have been fortunate enough to live with Reginald, my housemate’s emotional support cat. As I write this, he is taking a nap on his favorite chair in the corner of our living room. Though he frequently attempts to steal food off the table or bolt outside to chase squirrels, Reginald is a constant source of joy in my life and the lives of everyone in my apartment. Though Reginald is not my emotional support animal (ESA), he has had an undeniably positive effect on my mental health. When I’m stressed, I can pet him or play with him and immediately feel better.

The benefits of having a pet are well-documented, and having a pet can be therapeutic for people with mental illness: In fact, the Fair Housing Act protects people who need emotional support animals from housing discrimination, including at colleges and universities. It’s a positive thing that the College has enacted policies to grant ESAs to students who need them. The administrative process for acquiring an ESA seems unclear and confusing, however, and has produced seemingly arbitrary results. Students must venture through the Student Accesibility and Support Services bureacracy, and not all students who request ESAs have their applications approved, even in cases when a psychiatrist or doctor recommends one.

We shouldn’t assume by default that students aren’t responsible enough to own pets. Though I understand the College’s concerns about animal ownership, such as accommodating students with animal allergies and making sure pets aren’t being neglected, allowing anyone in an appropriate living space to own pets (within reason) would solve the issues with the ESA system and allow more students to benefit from having a pet. Students who need an animal for mental health purposes would not have to struggle with the administrative bureaucracy, and students who simply wish to have a pet could get one.

The College should still be involved, and put measures in place to ensure pets are accounted for and are being taken care of. Additionally, there would need to be measures in place to accommodate those with animal allergies, but current methods like animal-free dorms and ESA laundry machines could be reworked to meet this need.

Animals are, on the whole, good for students to have: they improve mental health and promote responsibility. If the College takes steps toward allowing students to own pets, students who had ESA applications denied will be able to get the mental health accommodations they need.

Tobias Baumann ’19 is a religious studies major from Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him at baumannt@kenyon.edu.

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