By Adria Nassim
The sun shines through the trees overhead. A squirrel pops out from behind a tree, and Ernie Pyle’s statue watches it all from a distance. Students dot the campus as they wander between classes. Just beyond Pyle’s line of sight in the forest bordering Sample Gates, the iconic entrance to Indiana University Bloomington’s campus, I stand with my service dog Lucy.
In our ten-year partnership, I took Lucy to various locations on campus and practiced having her find the way home. “Go Home!” I would tell her happily, and off she would go, eager to start on her quest to find her way back.
Turns out, IU has so much to offer—and not just for humans.
Part of the reason my parents and I decided to have me settle in Bloomington was because the campus had a lot of social and cultural enrichment opportunities that were open to the community. We figured having such a well-respected university nearby would give me plenty of intellectual stimulation, which I appreciate.
One of my favorite memories at IU was taking “The History of The Beatles” class taught by Glenn Gass. The course was one of the most popular on campus and was the only one like it in the world. I have loved The Beatles ever since my teen years. Lucy, who was a puppy in training at the time and would accompany me to class, is named for The Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
Lucy often made herself comfortable and eventually fell asleep during class. In the beginning of the semester, Dr. Gass met Lucy and said, “Don’t fall asleep in class, pup. I’ll take participation points from you!”
Of course, he never did. He loved having Lucy in class and thought she was very intelligent for refusing to fall asleep at night unless you sang her a few lines of her song. She falls asleep fine now.
It is so loud. Thousands of students pack into the stands, many decked out in candy stripes and assorted cream and crimson gear. Popcorn is scattered over the floor as I climb through the stands. Students hold up large cutouts (a.k.a. fatheads) to distract the visiting players shooting at the free throw line. And every time IU scores, the crowd roars.
No student experience at IU would be complete without going to a basketball game. Typically, I watch most games on television, but I’m glad I went to a game in person at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The humming passion of the crowd and the electricity in the air were unforgettable. Though my ears rang for days, I’m glad I went just for the sake of the experience and to take part in IU basketball history.
As I walk through Ballantine Hall on my way to find the classroom, I see students milling around or sitting at tables studying. One leans nonchalantly against the wall, backpack slung over her left shoulder, cramming a handful of Skittles into her mouth. I can hear students chattering in the women’s restroom as I round a corner. As I lead Thomas to find the room, a few students say, “Oh, he’s so cute!” and “Look, a dog!”
I love speaking to students about my experiences with autism and learning disabilities. A lot of them are on track for careers in fields such as child and adolescent psychology, speech language pathology, education, or other areas which serve a high number of kids and teens with disabilities.
One of the best parts of speaking to groups is having a student come up and remember me; they almost always remember my former service dog Lucy. Many students are now getting familiar with my new service dog, Thomas (otherwise known as Mr. T). I love that they remember us and sometimes talk to us about how much they learned from our visit and how they liked it.
Thomas has his own connection to IU. Thomas is a service dog trained through an organization called ICAN (Indiana Canine Assistant Network), based in the Indianapolis area. The dogs are trained primarily by carefully screened incarcerated adults at three Indianapolis-area correctional facilities.
ICAN also partners with a large network of volunteers throughout Indiana and the Midwest, as well as a student organization on IU Bloomington’s campus. Known as ICAN at IU, the student group helps dogs and puppies in training gain experience in public settings such as a store, restaurant, or campus lecture hall. A student volunteer alternates training with the dog’s inmate handlers until the dog graduates the training program at approximately age two when they are finally matched with a client.
Today, Thomas is enjoying his role as an IU employee and is well liked by all his co-workers. Some of his favorite perks of life on campus are demonstrating some of his skills at speaking engagements, taking sniff breaks, and visiting the tennis courts for playtime as a reward for good behavior or a job well done. As a recipient of an ICAN dog, I have spoken about my experience with a service dog on two panel discussions for ICAN at IU.
The air hangs thick with the smell of butter, salt, and milk chocolate bars from the concession stand just ahead. As I pass through the auditorium doors with a group of friends, I hear the chatter of students and the slurping and sucking of straws in nearly empty cups of soda. The lights dim, and soon the room fades into blackness.
All I can see is a huge snake at the front of the room.
The Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union is another place to make great memories. I remember a long line of students waiting to get in to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. From about middle school until approximately my late 20’s, I loved Harry Potter. I read the books multiple times and can still quote the dialogue from the movies, so I was so excited to go to that movie.
I could go on and on. These memories are a part of the college experience I made for myself, and these will stay with me wherever I go. Everyone’s college experience is unique, and it’s up to you to make your four years what you want them to be.
Of course, there are so many memories of taking a walk and following the red brick road to wherever I would end up next in Hoosier Nation—almost always with a dog.