An audience with Lulu
A Californian poodle-mix called Lulu crossed the stage of the University of St Andrews’ Younger Hall this afternoon, making history as the first emotional support dog to take part in a graduation ceremony at Scotland’s first University.
Lulu the dog (age 7) provides Mika Schmeling (age 22) with emotional stability and support, and Mika credits Lulu with helping her achieve her degree in Computer Science and Management. During her time in St Andrews Lulu has accompanied Mika on many adventures and joined in unique St Andrews traditions including: walks through the Lade Braes, a trip to Eilean Donan Castle, and the annual Gaudie procession.
Mika said: “There were a lot of inconsistencies in my life, coming to St Andrews from the US, it was very different in the UK. I felt I was almost living two lives. However, when the University said they were willing to have her, and my accommodation was willing to have her, it gave me a lot more security and structure. She’s really made things better. She comes to almost every event and breaks tension when I don’t know what to say to people.
“Friends have spent a significant amount of time cuddling Lulu, and in the Library they always love her. She’s helped us all through exam stress.”
Emotional support dogs are distinct from service animals, as they support mental rather than physical needs. The University of St Andrews recognises the positive impact animals can have on wellbeing. Researchers in its School of Psychology and Neuroscience have shown that owning a dog makes older people healthier and allows them to overcome barriers including loneliness and isolation.
Recent research reveals the extent of student mental health issues across the UK, with over 15,000 first-year students reporting a mental health problem in 2015/16, compared to approximately 3000 in 2006.
By listening to student concerns, and working with them to provide personalised refinements and early interventions, the University hopes to support the best educational outcomes as well as an evidence base for what works to improve long-term wellbeing.
Head of Equality and Diversity, Sukhi Bains, said: “Our ambition is to be a beacon of inclusivity and that means adapting to meet students’ emotional support needs, as well as their physical needs. Depression and anxiety can be a barrier for students trying to navigate academic life, and we want to make sure we’re responsive to the mental health challenges that can affect our students. We welcomed Lulu to St Andrews as the newest recruit to our culture of care, tolerance and resilience.”
On the same day the University of St Andrews also made a sign language interpreter available to translate the graduation ceremony, marking another first and a milestone in its efforts to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of the St Andrews experience.
Students in St Andrews can look forward to seeing Lulu around, as Mika will be taking up post as Director of Events and Services at the Students’ Association this year.