Halle K. Teague, Campus Carrier reporter
Megan Duncan, Campus Carrier editor
The process of bringing an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) on the Berry College campus underwent a major change in the spring of 2019, according to college officials.
This change came as part of a larger overhaul of the medical accommodation process that occurred on campus this past spring. The Academic Success Center (ASC) took over the responsibility for vetting all accommodation requests—including those for ESAs—from a now-dissolved committee that included several departmental representatives. Katrina Meehan, the assistant director of the ASC, explained the rationale behind the shift of responsibility from an interdepartmental committee to the ASC.
“Our role here is mainly providing accommodations to students,” Meehan said. “If a student has a need for an accommodation, we can vet that need, where some other departments on campus may or may not understand the necessity of an accommodation.”
Under the new system, students seeking approval for an ESA on campus start at the ASC. They submit an intake form and documentation from a medical professional that supports their request, then meet with an ASC staff member to discuss the need for an ESA. After the meeting, a student’s request for an ESA is either approved or denied, making every step of the process from documentation submission to approval an in-house operation rather than a function of a committee, according to Meehan.
“We’re a one stop shop,” she said.
A student approved for an ESA then meets with Stephen Swieton, the assistant director of Residence Life. He debriefs them on the school’s policies regarding the responsibilities of the ESA owner in terms of the inclusion of their animal in a residence hall environment. After this meeting, a student’s ESA is permitted on campus in their current residence hall. This concludes the approval process in its new form, which was a welcome update in the eyes of Swieton.
“Our goal has been to make it easier for students,” Swieton said. “Now it’s a streamlined process.”
Another large part of the update to the ESA process included new stipulations to allow ESAs to be housed in any residence hall on campus. Prior to the overhaul of the process in the spring, female students with ESAs had to live in either Poland or Robinwood Cottage, while male students with ESAs were required to live on first Clara according to Swieton, who elaborated on the trouble Residence Life encount e r ed when enforcing the old policies.
“Is it right to tell a person you have to live in a certain place because you have an ESA?” he said. “The whole point of the traditional style housing is because we think that that’s extremely beneficial.”
Student response to updates to the ESA approval and housing process have been varied. Some welcomed the change as a simplification of a previously complex and personnel-heavy procedure.
Senior M.C. Hix was the first student to apply for an ESA under the new system. She went through the process to secure approval for her rescue dog ESA, Clyde, to live with her. Hix said she liked the new process, and despite some initial complications, she felt the end result was worth it.
“After it was all said and done, Clyde’s here,” Hix said. “He makes everything better.”
Changes to the system come at a time when the numbers of ESAs on campus are growing. There are twice as many on campus this fall compared to last fall, according to Associate Dean of Students Lindsay Norman. The updates to the procedures and policies relating to ESAs on campus were implemented in an effort to maximize the success of Berry College students, according to Swieton, who summed up the school’s stance on ESAs.
“We do believe in access to education,” he said. “We want you to be successful members of society; we want you to make us proud. That’s why we do what we do. And so to the extent that ESAs are going to help people do that, then those students need those ESAs.”