When new freshmen leave home to attend college for the first time, they tend to pack up anything and everything meaningful in their home. I know this from personal experience; when I came to Brandeis, I loaded my car with instruments, movies, clothing, books, posters, anything and everything that I thought I would need at any given time. In reality, however, I was actually packing anything which I thought would help ease the impending homesickness in an attempt to mold my new dorm room into a carbon copy of my house. Most, if not all, feel some feelings of separation when they are away from home, and a recent New York Times article discusses some of these emotions in the context of a new solution: It profiles Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri, which is joining the ranks of colleges around the country who permit pets in their dorm rooms.
As the owner of three dogs, my first instinct is to say something like: This is the best thing ever!!!! At least a dozen colleges around the country, including locally at MIT (although they only allow cats), are changing their residential living policies to have explicit rules allowing pets. Some schools even take this to an extreme, including Eckerd College in South Florida which allows snakes as long as they are “less than six feet long and nonvenomous.” As extreme as this might seem to some, it still outlines the fact that having pets of any species in a dorm room is one more way to help a student adjust to their time away from home.
At the same time, however, there are obvious drawbacks. From a psychological perspective, having a pet around gives a new student an excuse to stay in their room and be antisocial, and as child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz notes, it could serve as a “Band-Aid” to cover up more serious emotional issues in students who are coping with more than nerves and the adjustment to a new location.
Then there are a long list of issues concerning cleanliness in the dorm, and personal responsibility on the part of the owner. It is difficult enough for a student to take between 4 and 5.5 classes per semester while maintaining a grade point average, holding down a job, and making time for a social life and involvement in a few clubs and extracurricular activities. The presence of another life for which to care in addition to your own may prove too challenging for some, causing a decrease in the aforementioned activities, or possibly worse, negligence of any kind toward a pet.
In the end, I would love to see Brandeis reexamine its community living policy and consider adopting pet rules in the hopes of allowing students to feel a closer connection to home. Personally, I think that there is an additional benefit to the community; animals can often inspire positive moods in most situations simply by being around, and seeing a larger pet presence on the walk to classes every day would hopefully maintain high spirits all over campus. Yet even though I support it, I’m realistic enough to know that were such a policy enacted, I would have to opt out due to a lack of time to properly care for a pet.