At the beginning of this semester the University of Connecticut updated several of its policies concerning the use of service animals and Emotional Support Animals, or ESAs. The new policy stipulates that individuals with disabilities can bring service animals and ESAs into controlled spaces. This term covers a broad range and includes all indoor areas owned or controlled by the university as well as outdoor areas with limited use or access. ESAs can stay where their owners are, but must be in carriers or attached to a leash outside their location. The new policies are collectively very positive.
It is important to recognize the distinction between service animals and ESAs. An ESA serves to mitigate the emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler’s condition or disorder. It helps a person function normally on a day-to-day basis, but does not perform a significant life task. This area falls under the jurisdiction of service animals, which may aid in vision, hearing, or mobility issues. Service animals are traditionally dogs, while an ESA may be any domesticated animal.
The fact that the university allows ESAs, especially in residences, can have a huge impact on students who need them. College is a stressful place, even more so for people who have certain conditions. ESAs can help provide a calming presence that allow students to succeed when they otherwise might not be able to. For people nervous in public environments, having an ESA can make going out less uncomfortable and help people thrive socially. People should be able to go about normal business without feeling scared or uncomfortable and ESAs help them do just that.
ESAs play an important role in the success of students on campus, every bit as much as service animals that may have more clearly defined tasks. The fact that the university takes a very accepting stance towards these animals is a welcoming sign and should serve as an example for universities and other institutions that may still be behind the times.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.