Oberlin, Ohio (AP): A new initiative calculated to promote healing and inclusiveness has instead led to controversy, legal threats, violence, and reported feelings of unsafeness on the campus of Oberlin College.
Oberlin administrators announced the Emotional Support Companion Animals Program for Everyone, affectionately known as "ESCAPE," last week to an eager student body. "This is a safe space," said Walter Green, the college's Executive Vice-President for Redress of Grievances. "And we choose to make it safer with the help of the nonhuman companions with whom we share Mother Earth."
"The nonhuman companions' choices will also be part of our community dialogue," he added.
With that, Oberlin launched an ambitious plan to supply each student and faculty member with an animal companion to support their emotional, spiritual, and socioeconomic needs, drawing from a large population PETA recently liberated from various forms of servitude across the midwest. Excited undergraduates lined up outside the Nifong Student Empowerment Cooperative, waiting their turn to choose and bond with a companion. "We needed this. We needed this to get through this year from hell," remarked Sophomore False Consciousness Studies major Lauren Haller, as her friends jazzhanded in an affirming manner.
Haller referred to a series of crises that have intruded upon the lifespaces of Oberlin students. In February a senior delayed three days before accepting public responsibility for using the term "girls." College administrators, citing federal privacy rules, declined to specify his punishment. In March, the campus roiled when a computer error resulted in several issues of GQ being stocked at the student convenience store, and the administration failed timely to respond to a Campus Justice Petition demanding changes to certain culturally normative elements of the engineering curriculum. More recently, a speech by extremist Christina Hoff Sommers caused widespread distress. Plans to pelt Ms. Sommers with rotten fruit was derailed when organizers learned that their organic produce supplier had once spoken in opposition to a $25 minimum wage, news that led to widespread tearful recriminations.
Unfortunately, ESCAPE has not provided the solace for which it was designed. Problems began the first day when Little Mister Derrida, a wolf hybrid companioned with popular Classism Professor Forrest Moore, savagely attacked senior Pietro Salvador's emotional support rabbit Che. "It's unreasonable, and in fact very offensive, to expect Little Mister Derrida to deny his nature in order to confirm to social expectations that make the majority comfortable," protested Professor Moore, who declines to classify his companion as either wolf or not-wolf. Salvador, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly informed his RA that he had not found the experience emotionally supportive.
There were other violent confrontations between companions of different backgrounds and life experiences throughout the week. Moreover, many students reported that their classmates had not offered the welcoming and accepting community that is the hallmark of Oberlin. Sophomore Henry Trask's attempt to bring his emotional support pig to a Comparative Religion class led to a largely unproductive and mostly screamed debate about the inherent tension between Trask's right to emotional support and his classmates' protected right against offense. Freshperson Darlene Oswalt filed a federal civil rights complaint when a professor asked her to take her raptor outside, saying that the college had attempted to "silence [the eagle's] own story." Moreover, students with sensory differences have reported hygiene anxieties. "The residence halls reek from feces and urine," said one student who asked to remain anonymous. "And this time not just that one graduate dorm."
Administrators rushed to address student concerns, but unsuccessfully. Room-to-room trigger warnings listing the types of companions therein proved impractical with an active and mobile student body and were condemned as "othering and stigmatizing" by some students. The school hired emergency crisis counselors, but discovered that the students' anxieties and conflicts merely relocated to the waiting areas of the counselors' offices. "I can't reach serenity without Dostoyevsky," said one student, referring to her emotional support chinchilla. "And Dostoyevsky can't be serene if there are, like, four coral snakes waiting there with those pretentious assholes from the theater department."
At press time, administrators were privately expressing grave concern. "I don't know what to do," said Green. "There's going to be a surge in calls for emotional support next week when those free speech fanatics from FIRE show up to talk. And this is Peak Triggering season in the economics and history departments. These students need to have someone unquestioning and uncritical reaffirm their feelings, and we thought animals fit that bill."
"They are being exposed to upsetting ideas every day," said Green. "What are we supposed to do, just tell them to deal?"