HUANG: An ode to Vanderbilt’s infamous furry creatures
Vanderbilt’s bold army of hungry, food-stealing squirrels provide us with much-needed comfort and laughter as tests, homework and projects ramp up.
November 15, 2022
I rolled my eyes the first time I saw the three-to-one squirrel-to-student ratio advertised on Vanderbilt’s Instagram account, playing it off as a marketing scheme to appear “quirky.” There is no possible way a college campus can have that many squirrels, I thought. How could a school form part of its identity around little creatures that run around, shimmy up trees and steal leftover Rand cookies? After my first few months on campus, however, I’ve learned that the squirrels at Vanderbilt are more important to the campus than they may seem.
When I first arrived on campus on move-in day, I realized that Vanderbilt’s squirrel statistics did not come from thin air. The campus is practically a squirrel metropolis. All over, squirrels chase each other up trees, dig through pine needles and nibble on acorns. True, squirrels are found throughout the United States. It seems, though, that Vanderbilt squirrels are built differently—both physically and mentally. They casually eat on the walkways with little care for the humans around them and throw death stares at annoying students who disturb their acorn-scavenging by whizzing past them on motorized scooters. Don’t even think about putting your Suzies’ cream-cheese bagel down for a second as you sit outside the library unless you’re willing to sacrifice it to a savvy squirrel. Even squirrels eating a student’s Doordash Chipotle is a familiar scene.
Truthfully, I was a little scared and intimidated by the squirrels. Their piercing shrills were not a sound I particularly wanted to hear while I sleepwalked to the dining hall for breakfast. My mind was filled with angst as I caught squirrels eating the Jack-O-Lantern my roommate and I put out at the entrance of our dorm the night before. Just like every other Vanderbilt student, I’ve been jump-scared by a squirrel darting across my path as I walked home after a long study session in Central Library. I also didn’t appreciate it when the squirrels jumped out of the dumpster while I tried to take out the trash.
Yet the appeal of the squirrels slowly grew on me. As the semester progressed, quiet whispers of homesickness morphed into an irrational, aching desire to fly across the country back home, and the stress from the increasing amount of schoolwork flooded my thoughts. Strangely, the furry creatures that had once scared me now provide me with a break from the thoughts of homesickness and academic pressure. I take comfort in their bushy tails, which remind me of the fluffiness of my pomeranian. Watching them nestle under the pine needles is like a callback to the comfort and familiarity of home. The comical way that squirrels pose on walkways, staircases and railings, as if they are waiting for a student to take their picture, provides the perfect light-hearted entertainment after taking a particularly grueling quiz. Even their Rand-cookie-thievery makes me chuckle as I pass the trash cans on my way to class.
As tests, homework and projects ramp up, the squirrels provide more than just occasional laughter, smile, and comfort. It’s easy to become overwhelmed to the point where classes and student organizations start to overtake every waking thought. But looking up from my computer screen while sitting outside to watch the squirrels collect acorns or try to carry food significantly larger than their little mouths can hold is a reminder of the beauty— and humor—of the world around us. There is so much to life beyond our classrooms, the high-stress world of college and our personal challenges, and it can be so wonderful to stop worrying for a moment.
Quite often, watching the squirrels chase each other is a mental distraction from my fears about the math homework I’ve been putting off. This sentiment is why I’ve come to believe that the squirrels are part of Vanderbilt’s identity, mentioned on Vanderbilt’s social media, in the classroom and during admission information sessions. Vanderbilt even has a squirrel whisper, Garfield Zhang who shares pictures and videos of campus’s furry creatures. It is a constant reminder for Vanderbilt students, prospective students and anyone who might find themselves on Vanderbilt’s campus to look beyond the burdens of life and find humor and enjoyment in the small things.
It’s safe to say that Vanderbilt students are high-achieving and have high expectations for the future. Yet in the midst of all this pressure, the squirrels provide humor and light-heartedness that allows us to get out of our thoughts and appreciate the little things in life. My friends and I constantly share photos and videos of squirrels doing cute or funny things, like eating an apple core or screaming at the barking dogs. The squirrels embody a simpler life where the only worry of life is figuring out what to eat for lunch. While the endless cycle of homework and responsibilities can be overwhelming and stressful, squirrels remind us to take a break—even if only for a second—and enjoy the world.