Like most universities, Yale does not allow students to keep pets in their dorm rooms. But federal laws forbid discrimination on the basis of disability status, so university officials have to make accommodations for students who claim to rely on "emotional support animals."
There are now 14 such animals living on campus—a substantial increase since last year, when just one emotional support animal dwelt at Yale, notes The College Fix.
While the animals undoubtedly provide some comfort to their owners, the science behind emotional support animals rests on a shaky foundation. The relevant expert is actually a Yale doctoral candidate in psychology named Molly Crossman, who tells The Yale Daily News, "There isn't research that speaks directly to emotional support animals. There's little directly on that that I'm aware of. Although we generally agree that science informs policy, often it just doesn't work out like that."
Don't blame Yale for humoring its students' obnoxious requests. Students at Grand Valley State University and the University of Nebraska have successfully sued their institutions for the right to keep emotional support animals. Yale would probably like to avoid such suits, which are possible because provisions in the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities. As Sarah Chang, associate director of Yale's Resource Office on Disaiblitites, tells The Yale Daily News:
Yale can't really do anything to prevent controversy because we have to follow the law. We're trying to implement [the policy] as smoothly as possible here within the Yale community by working to ensure that our rules are fair both for the people who are requesting the animals on campus and for everyone else who then has to live in a community and share the space with those animals.
The comedian George Carlin had a famous routine in which he pointed out that many words and phrases get stretched out over time, their true meaning disguised by jargon. His main example was "shell shock," the term for soldiers who were mentally scarred by the horrors of war, which became "battle fatigue," then "operational exhaustion," and finally "post-traumatic stress disorder." "The humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now," he observed.
Carlin died in 2008, so he didn't live quite long enough to see PTSD watered down in a different way: College students now use it to refer to far more mundane emotional difficulties. Along the same lines, "emotional support animal" is just a euphemism for "pet." There's nothing wrong with wanting a pet—I have two dogs, and thus have opted to live in a dog-friendly apartment complex. But let's not use junk mental health science to create a new category of emotional entitlement that university officials are legally obliged to satisfy.