Parents and the Internet

The following post appeared on the Wesleyan Parents Talk page, with the title “Support Animal” question:

My son is living in a program house this year and was just informed that a new housemate will be bringing a cat as a “support animal”. My son is allergic to cats so this was quite a surprise to him. The Residential Office asked the house members to agree to help control the cat, keeping control of it if work was being done on the house for example, but did not ask house members whether they could comfortably live with this animal. He has told the residential office about his allergies and his worry about the cat being in the common areas of the house.
Does anyone have experience with the University’s “support animal” policy? Apparently students go through an application process to bring an animal for emotional support. We are baffled by this.
P ’14,’16
The “new housemate” she is referring to is me. Thus.

Dear Parent of My Future Housemate,

These are my issues with your post:

1. Putting “support animal” in quotes (as I just demonstrated) is an attempt to delegitimize the term, despite the fact that it is the official term used by the university.

2.You said that a “new housemate” would be bringing the animal. I am not a new housemate, in the sense that I lived in the house last year. That makes me a “returning housemate” while your son is the “new housemate.”

3. It is entirely inappropriate for a parent to attack someone else’s child on the internet. Official channels (an email to the director of Residential Life, for example) were provided for you to respond to my request, and instead you chose to attack me in a public forum without having heard my side of the story or reasons for requesting a support animal. Your son, on the other hand, replied in an appropriate way and expressed his concerns.

4. According to a number of studies, having a pet improves the health and happiness of the pet owner. It can improve depression. Wesleyan requires students to live on campus for all four years (I suspect that this is for financial reasons, since room & board cost around $15,000 per year), and by banning animals from campus housing for all four years (other than in the case of the support animal), they remove the possibility of a health-and-welfare-improving animal for four years of our lives.

5. Only students with a documented disability can apply for a support animal, and they must provide a doctor’s note which states that having a pet is the appropriate course of treatment (often combined with other things, such as medication) for the student’s condition.

6. Speaking of which, I have MS. MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin in the body. MS causes depression, often due to structural brain degradation, in at least 50% of patients. It has come to my attention that a number of parents act as though all college students are healthy. In fact, many conditions, including MS, diabetes, cancer, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cystic fibrosis, migraines, and depression, strike young people. I think it is naive of you to assume that the request for a support animal is illegitimate. Your son’s cat allergy is not the worst condition that can occur in young people.

7. Which brings me to my final point: All you actually had to say was that your son has a cat allergy. He lives on my floor, approximately two rooms away, we share a bathroom and a hallway, so this information alone would have prompted me to not bring the cat. Now that I know that your son is allergic to cats, I have informed ResLife that I am not bringing the cat after all.

I hope that this has helped you to understand the university’s support animal policy,



9 Replies to “Parents and the Internet”

  1. Cade this is a wonderful post. You are exceptional and so compassionate. Perhaps you are to caring. And yes you are special
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  2. I would just like to point out that, in addition to this parent being presumptuous and belittling, this is largely another example of Reslife failing to do their job adequately with forethought and care. If they approve someone in a house for a support animal, they should, when informing the other residents, at least say something like “If you aren’t comfortable with this living situation, contact Reslife and we can see if other accommodations can be made.” The parent could then be annoyed that their kid has to move, but in my mind that comes down to a) you’re a returning resident and b) you shouldn’t be pressured into giving up your support animal. It was generous of you to do so, of course, but if reslife doesn’t require support animal apps to be processed before housing decisions are made (eliminating their ability to forewarn house applicants), they certainly should be aware of the possibility that such a situation could arise and not treat being okay with a cat as a given for all residents. I’m glad you were okay with giving up your support animal, when this kerfuffle was largely Reslife’s and no fault of yours. :/

  3. My goodness. Clearly, the rooms can be changed to accommodate the cat! Please, Res Life, just move one of these two rooms. The son can be moved a few doors over and hopefully, Cade can bring her cat! Cade, please keep us up to date on this!

  4. I think you have fair points and I understand why you’re upset. I think that you (and anyone who needs one) should be able to have a support animal. But I do have two concerns about this blog post.

    Firstly, after re-reading the parent’s email many times, I have found absolutely no place where she wrote that your condition was “illegitimate.” She has never suggested that students at Wesleyan do not have the many conditions that you have described. I in no way think that this parent was trying to complain about you, insult you, or reduce MS. It sounds like this parent had never heard of support animals before and was trying to better understand both what they are (hence the quotation marks) and other students’ experiences living with people who have them.

    Secondly, allergic reactions can be very serious. Often times allergies to animal hair can cause a person to go into anaphylaxis, suffocate, and even die. We have no idea of knowing how serious her son’s allergies are. If they are moderately or severely serious, this parent was probably very concerned. No, it is not an autoimmune disease, but it is something that could possibly seriously hurt him if he’s around enough cat hair, and I don’t think it’s very fair for you to belittle that. Her son would have to live with the cat for the entire year so she was worried. Clearly ResLife hadn’t been very helpful or informative so she was looking for another outlet to express her concern. About her simply asking you about the cat, did she even have your name and/or contact information? She was trying to deal with something that she acknowledged she was ignorant about and she was trying to better understand it.

  5. Cade, your post is intelligent, articulate and informative. It’s unfortunate that you felt attacked and belittled. Like Al, I didn’t see anything that suggests that in her email. I see a concerned parent desperately trying to protect her child. Perhaps she could have used other avenues and other words, however her lack of understanding does not justify public humiliation.

    You said, “It is entirely inappropriate for a parent to attack someone else’s child on the internet.” Are there any circumstances where it’s appropriate for anyone to attack someone else on the internet? Unfortunately, that is what you did when you shared an email (including the name) that was posted in a private listserv (NOT a public forum) without permission of the author. The Parents Talk Page is not open to the public, people must be members to participate. Presumably the only people who can join are parents who are interested in sharing the joys (and concerns) of parenting a college student. In this context, a mother wrote an email seeking support and reassurance. Since you are a student, not a parent, I think we can safely assume that you did not receive the the email, it was forwarded to you — by a parent desperately trying to protect his/her child.

    It is challenging to live with a critical or chronic illness — whether it is MS, diabetes, cancer, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cystic fibrosis, migraines, depression, OR A LIFE THREATENING ALLERGY. And frustrating when those who have not faced these challenges don’t understand. I get that. As someone who has triumphed in the face of many challenges, it is really unfortunate that you (and the parent who forwarded you the email) were not able respond with empathy instead of anger and disparagement.

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