Just for the record, It’s not a pet: Emotional support and service animals on college campuses
Monday, April 16, 2018 at 10:37AM
David H.K. Nguyen

When students think of college the first thing that comes to mind is the responsibility of living on their own, and all that comes with that new-found freedom. As young adults, living on campus can be a bit overwhelming and exciting. Students who are adjusting to having freedom and limited housing rules and policies can struggle with this new challenge. For students living in on-campus housing it is very important they understand the housing rules and policies, the university student code of conduct policy, the Fair Housing Act, Title XI, and their rights as a student. Every student attending a public institution has rights under the U.S. Constitution. Policies may vary based on if the institution is public, but over the years college housing has seen a growth in students and their furry little friends joining the community. From my experience working in student housing, students are struggling to submit documentation for their emotional support and service animals. With the new-found focus on emotional support and service animals it is best to educate both students and housing professionals on such issue.

Many students with disabilities and mental health concerns are encouraged by their doctors to apply for an emotional support or service animal to aide them with their everyday life. Students in need of such animal requirements have every right to have their support animal join them in on-campus housing under the federal Fair Housing Act. It is very important that the university housing program has an emotional support and service animal policy in place to better support the students with disabilities. Failure to do so will violate the Fair Housing Act, as what happened in the United States of America v. Kent State University, et al. case. The issue many housing professionals see with emotional support animals and service animals is the student’s ability to alibied by the university and on-campus housing policy in regard to such animals. For example, The University of Texas at San Antonio requires individuals with disabilities who are requesting an ESA/SA in UTSA housing to provide appropriate documentation to the Documentation Review Committee in Student Disability Services. Typically, on-campus housing requires the student to provide proper documentation that supports both student and animal. For example, student must provide the animal’s most recent shot records, a photo or photo I.D. of the animal, a completed copy of the university addendum for Emotional Support Animals, and supporting documentation from a doctor stating that there is a need for the student to have a support animal or service animal. Once the ESA/SA is approved to live in on-campus housing, the student has to maintain their living space.

Although both ESA/SA are supported by most institutions, it is important that students understand the difference between the two types of animal requirements. The September 2010 Department of Justice ruling defined a recognized service animal as a dog. Universities and housing professionals are not allowed to ask any questions pertaining to the student’s disability or the type of training the service animal has undergone. In the Alejandro v. Palm Beach State College case, the university over stepped their boundary when they asked the student to describe her need for the service animal, how the dog had been trained to signal an attack, and when a professor found out the student’s disability, he advised the student not to bring the service animal to class. Of course, the court ruled in the student’s favor due to the violations to Title II of the American with Disabilities Act.  Universities and higher education professionals have no such right to make such call.

Emotional Support Animals are defined as an animal that provides emotional and therapeutic support to individuals suffering from emotional issues, psychiatric problems, or anxiety. A cat or dog is normally recognized as an ESA, but other animals like snakes, pigs, etc. can also be a registered ESA. Universities and housing professionals should never rely on their own judgment to determine if a student should be approved or is in need of an ESA. In the United States v. University of Nebraska Kearney case the university inquired about the student’s need for the ESA and refused to accommodate. No matter the university or housing professional’s personal opinion on ESAs, the laws and policies in place for ESA trumps any opinion, personal belief, or values. 

Now that you have been informed about Emotional Support and Service Animals, how would you handle or approach when faced with such challenges?

This post was authored by Trenshaé Gilbert, a masters student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio and an assistant director of residence life at UTSA for Campus Living Villages

Article originally appeared on Highereducationlaw.org (http://www.highereducationlaw.org/).
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