Squirrel pride lacking compared to other colleges

One of the best Illinois staples in the fall is the abundance of squirrels skirting around, gathering nuts for the winter. Walking down the Quad, it is impossible to ignore the simple elegance that the thousands of rodents bring to campus. Granted, squirrels chew their food loudly and claw their way up trees, but there is still beauty in the way this behavior adds to the scenery. The critters are agile, adorable and carry personalities that we wish could be instilled in more of the people we know.

That being said, the student population significantly undervalues its squirrels. 

A Huffington Post article from September listed the most squirrel-obsessed colleges. The University made the list, but only as an honorable mention. That is simply not good enough for a campus with squirrels as vibrant as ours.

It is important to note that the abundance of squirrels at UI is deeply rooted in University history. In 1901, University President Andrew S. Draper wrote in a letter to the Board of Trustees:

“For some years I have had in mind the domestication of squirrels upon the grounds of the University and have made some investigations which lead me to believe that the suggestion is entirely practicable. … If successful, the influence upon University life, and upon the feelings of students, would be considerable, and students would carry that influence to all parts of the State.”

The Board of Trustees eventually adopted the recommendation and allocated $250 for squirrel domestication.

Since then, our students’ appreciation of squirrels has been significantly outdone by other universities.

Harvard maintains a squirrel archive that contains firsthand accounts of interactions with the furry creatures dating back as far as 1882. One such account from the school’s newspaper, “The Harvard Crimson,” noted that “Harvard students are really, really bored” and that the addition of more squirrels to the Yard would be a solution to campus “divisions on racial, ethnic, and various other lines.”

Students at the University of Chicago sport T-shirts with the slogans: “University of Chicago: Where squirrels are cuter than the girls,” and “University of Chicago: Where the squirrels are more aggressive than the guys.”

At Vassar College it is believed that the squirrels there are the “returned souls of English majors who couldn’t find jobs after graduation.” The school also hosts the Vassar Squirrel Association whose “president” has written an op-ed in the school newspaper refuting “the racist attitude towards squirrels that pervades the campus.”

Students at the University of Texas at Austin have arguably the best squirrel pride in the nation. Their entire campus community grieved when one of their precious albino squirrels was killed in a “terrible bike accident.” They even have a society devoted exclusively to albino squirrel preservation.

Mary Baldwin College has the nickname the “Fighting Squirrels,” and Macalester College considers squirrels their unofficial mascot. Last time I checked we were still looking for a new mascot. Perhaps we could adopt the “Fighting Squirrels?”

Rice University made the list ahead of us, which I found particularly offensive. I have visited the Rice campus, and I can say with absolute certainty that our squirrels are better than theirs. Their squirrels are generally more overweight, with graying fur and lack the overall charm and outgoing demeanor of our squirrels. The fact that their school is able to muster more pride for those ugly little fur-balls is an embarrassment.

To cap it all off, other Big Ten schools that made the list include Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan. Sure, maybe we can’t beat them in football, but come on people, let’s at least try to win in squirrel pride!

For a school renowned for academic achievement, it is a shame the student population is unable to recognize the beauty that squirrels bring to campus. We need to embrace this beauty now so that a strong tradition of squirrel adoration can be passed down and bring joy to future generations. We would see the benefits in happier and more motivated students along with the greater national attention we would receive as a result of our squirrel pride.

The possibilities for attaining this goal are nearly endless. The creation of a new Registered Student Organization could bring more attention to squirrel related issues. The October Lovers Club could certainly incorporate squirrel related activities into its agenda. The University could offer a photo competition or other such events to encourage interaction with our squirrels.

Squirrel Appreciation Day is coming up on Jan. 21, 2014 — certainly a great opportunity to make something happen.

The challenge is clear. Who has the nuts to take it on?

Andrew is a junior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]