Richard Parker wants to return to Union. His owner Josh Mays, a freshman conservation biology major, is helping him come back.
Mays’ two older sisters were allowed to keep fish in their college dorms, so in August when Mays moved in to Union, he assumed bringing his Beta fish, named after the tiger Richard Parker from the movie “Life of Pi,” wouldn’t be an issue.
He didn’t hear of Union’s anti-fish policy until his Residence Adviser went over the rules with his dorm building; Mays looked over at his roommate Jaylon Douglas and said “I have a fish.” Right then Mays decided to initiate change to allow pet fish on campus.
His Residence Director gave him a few weeks to get Richard home to Chattanooga, so Mays’ parents took him back after visiting one weekend.
But saying goodbye to his little buddy wasn’t too bad, Mays said, because he had already started the Richard Parker Project to bring him back.
Mays and his friends began a social media and word-of-mouth campaign—within the first night of creating the Richard Parker Project Facebook page, they had 100 followers, he said. Several people have messaged them asking how they can help. They currently have 141 followers. They also made Twitter and Instagram accounts, created #fisharefriends, spread posters all over campus and are selling “fish are friends” T-shirts.
The Lee dorm building wrote “fish are friends” in chalk on all their sidewalks and one person’s door is covered in chalk art about Richard, Mays said.
“I think Richard Parker is almost a household name around Union,” Mays said. People have come up to Mays to tell him how great his idea is and he overhears conversations around campus about keeping pet fish.
At a Senate meeting Sept. 30, Douglas, a freshman council member, presented a resolution he and Mays wrote together to change the anti-fish policy. It was Douglas’ first resolution and the last presentation of the meeting.
Mays and Douglas both admitted being nervous after witnessing senators debate other resolutions and see some resolutions pass quickly or fail. There was little discussion on their resolution, but one amendment rewrote it entirely, Mays said. But when senators voted, “I just saw a sea of yesses,” he said.
They are crossing their fingers, Mays said, until Oct. 14 when Senate will announce the resolution’s progress in the hands of Bryan Carrier, vice president for student life and dean of students.
The provisions of the resolution allow students to keep fish in bowls rather than tanks because tanks are more easily breakable and can potentially take up too much room, Douglas said. Students may keep fish in their separate rooms but not in the common living area unless all roommates approve.
According to the resolution, students must take the fish with them or find other arrangements when leaving campus on break.
Carrier said he has commissioned Ken Litscher, director of residence life, to research guidelines on tanks and aquatic life set by other universities that allow pet fish. Litscher will then write a policy that residence directors agree on and Carrier will present it to university administration by the end of the year.
Carrier supports a new policy on fish as long as it has proper parameters, and he thinks it shouldn’t be a long process.
Those who talked to Mays and Douglas couldn’t give a reason for the anti-fish policy, but Douglas said some faculty speculate insurance policy may be involved.
Mays got Richard for Christmas in 2013.
“He’s a very flamboyant fish, very snazzy dresser,” sporting green, blue, black, red and purple colors, Mays said. Beta fish can live two or three years if their owners take care of them.
Douglas said he would like to get a Beta fish if the policy passes. He said it is important students have responsibilities in college, such as caring for a fish.
If pet fish are not allowed, he will write a new resolution, Mays said, but with all the support for the project, he is confident the rule will change.
Mays enjoys politics and might consider joining SGA in the future, he said. Although passing more resolutions to improve campus life in the future is not out of the question, he doesn’t think he and his friends will present any more resolutions about pets.
“Richard being sent home was a blessing in disguise because it’s brought a lot of people together,” Mays said.
For more information on the Richard Parker Project or buying a T-shirt, visit Richard Parker Project on Facebook or follow richardparkerproject on Instagram or @RichardParkerUU on Twitter.