One of the less-talked-about aspects of Willamette University, integrated into the lives of students and faculty alike, is the animals that live on its campus. Service dogs, ducks, geese and nutria roam around campus and have brightened up the days of many individuals. The culture surrounding these animals has grown quite a bit over the past couple of years, and has become significant to the Willamette experience.
The most prominent animal on campus that many Willamette students have become familiar with are the ducks. Some organizations such as the Collegian have gone so far as to make the ducks their mascot, demonstrating how integral they are.
When students were asked their opinions about why they thought there were such strong opinions on the ducks, many said that they felt they were part of what made Willamette unique. Becky Heath (‘23) commented that the ducks specifically were very much integrated into Willamette’s identity. She claimed that “You have to accept them as part of the campus culture, because they’re just everywhere,” adding that they have become an unofficial mascot of sorts. Carter Murphy (‘22) echoed this sentiment, adding that it almost feels like a point of pride for Willamette. She said in an interview that “we are all happy when [the ducks] succeed and have really cute ducklings.”
One rather controversial animal that has resided on campus in the past is the nutria. This creature was much more abundant on campus two years ago (and in years prior) and was considered by many to be another integral on-campus animal. Murphy said that the nutria were “always a huge thing, as far as I could tell. When I was shadowing, during the application process, that was a thing that a lot of students I’d talked to talked about.” Some students on campus have claimed that they are reappearing again. Heath claimed to have seen one in front of Doney hall in broad daylight.
Though now they may be more limited in numbers, both on campus and in Salem in general, they are still very well-loved by the student population. Brianna Kurtenbach (‘22) commented on the popularity of them on campus, saying “people love it. It’s like they come back to their room or something, if they have a roommate, and they’re like, “I just saw a nutria!”
With the resurgence of the nutria on campus, in conjunction with the ducks and ducklings that are seen year-round, there is little doubt that animals are quite important to Willamette as a whole. Many students consider them to be something to simply observe and enjoy; Kurtenbach stated simply, “it’s just because they’re happy, and free, and just doing their thing, and we just kind of wish we were doing that. So… we’re kind of, like, soaking in that kind of freeness.”