The college is currently dealing with negotiating the presence of emotional support animals on campus and their effects on students with allergies. Emotional support animals are animals that the college must allow to live with students who need them based on the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
Students who need emotional support animals can get a letter from a doctor or therapist that recommends that they have their animal with them. This is then registered with the Center for Teaching and Learning, which gives the college the recommendation that a student have an emotional support animal. The college has had cats as emotional support animals on campus before, but this is the first year that they are living in freshman dorms.
“An emotional support animal is an animal that’s there for a therapeutic purpose,” Learning Specialist Stephanie Grimes said. “For most students that have an identified disability, sometimes that animal can provide support for that individual.”
Cats have been on campus before as emotional support animals, but they are in freshman dorms for the first time this year. As a result, the college has had to deal with some student allergies to the cats in their living spaces. Normally, allergies are not so much of an issue because upperclassmen can choose their roommates and suitemates.
“There tends to be more allergy issues in regards to cats and dogs than with other animals, so we’re working a fine line where we’re trying to be where we need to be to accommodate the student who needs the animal as well as still accommodate the student who is allergic, because they still have the same rights to the living space,” Assistant Director of Campus Life for Housing Operations Koreen Kerfoot said.
The college has been addressing the allergies and working to accommodate both students, Kerfoot said. Sometimes this results in the relocation of a student or adjustments in the ventilation of a dorm.
“There is no easy answer, but we try to realize where both parties are in this,” Kerfoot said.
The college’s policy on emotional support animals is based on laws from the federal government and is completely separate from the campus’s pet policy, which allows students to have small animals in their own dorm rooms with the agreement of their roommate.
Grimes said that for many students, having a pet provides a reminder of home.
“There are many, more than not, college students who when they left home left the dog, the cat — most American households have animals. That’s just kind of a part of our culture that we have,” she said.
Senior Bethany Larson has a rabbit and a guinea pig currently. Though they are not emotional support animals, she said that the time she spends with her animals helps provide emotional support for her.
“I can’t imagine living at Knox without my animals, to be honest,” she said. “My rabbit here is a really big emotional support for me.”
Sophomore Sarah Gaynor said that her gecko, though not as social as a cat or rabbit, provides company for her.
“It’s nicer to come back to my room because if my roommate’s not there, it’s not just an empty room,” she said.
Larson’s roommate, senior Jade Ivy, also has two parakeets that she adopted from a Galesburg pet store during her sophomore year.
“I don’t think I would have enjoyed my time here at Knox as much as I did if I didn’t have my pets,” Ivy said. “When you come back to a dorm it feels so much more like home when you have pets there.”