puppies won’t shorten waitlists

Dogs on campus to ease student stress as exams approach is catching on at universities across the country. It seemed to start with media coverage of the Dalhousie Students’ Union .  And now it has spread to universities across the country 

Maybe there was a workshop on therapy dogs at a recent conference for university counselors. Whatever the origin, I think students agree that it’s a pretty good addition to university campuses.

And it’s not just dogs. At my school there are also massages, yoga, meditation, and free smoothies to ease exam stress (and we’ve been doing it since before it was cool ).

But I think we should take a closer look at universities’ motivations in promoting ‘puppy rooms’.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad universities (and students’ unions) are providing therapy dogs and video game rooms to stressed out students. These are all great initiatives, all well-intentioned efforts to respond to the serious problems of student stress and mental health – problems which have been receiving greater attention on campuses and in the media recently.

But I can’t help but feel like bringing dogs to campus is the equivalent of putting a  band–aid on a gaping wound.

Here’s the reality. On most campuses seeing a counselor requires waiting weeks to get an initial appointment and then being put on a wait list that is several months long.

And dogs and yoga are much cheaper alternatives to hiring more counselors. They’re also easier solutions to student stress than reducing tuition fees so students don’t have to work so many part-time (or full-time) jobs in addition to going to school full time.

To be clear – my concern isn’t with the staff in counseling and student life departments. In general I think they’re doing the best they can with limited budgets. But senior administrators in universities need to take some responsibility for the mental health crisis facing universities. People like the university presidents who formed this working group need to put their money where their mouth is.

If universities want to get serious about dealing with student stress and mental health they need to spend more time focusing on the basics. Dogs are great, but they don’t make up for understaffed and underfunded counseling departments.


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