While most colleges have some sort of mascot, a select few have unofficial ones that are even more popular amongst the student body. Here at Grinnell College, our unofficial mascot is unmistakably the squirrel.

Hang on. A squirrel?

It seems a bit odd at first. Why would we adopt a common, medium-sized rodent as an unofficial icon at a top-notch liberal arts institution? I admit I was a bit puzzled myself when I learned about the importance of squirrels to Grinnell College student life.

However, over time, I learned that the answer was pretty simple: it’s because we love them.

Believe it or not, our squirrels are incredibly smart and, I believe, different from other squirrels. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a subspecies of Grinnell squirrels, Sciurus grinnelli. Perhaps they’re the result of a secret Noyce science lab experiment gone wrong … or right.

Squirrels have become an integral part of the Grinnell College culture, providing us with constant entertainment. They’re always around, foraging for food on the lawn or chasing each other about to an endless arrangement of squeaks and squawks. You’ll hear them gnawing on nuts in the tree and you’ll see them standing on their hind legs as you walk by. They probably think you possess something for them to eat. It’s not uncommon to see human-squirrel interaction on campus, especially if food is involved. Sometimes it’s student-initiated, but other times it’s squirrel-initiated. Sometimes, it’s a friendly meeting. Other times, it can get pretty aggressive.

I’ve encountered squirrels foraging around in the garbage cans several times, each with its own end result. The first squirrel popped its little head out of the trash and just sniffed in my general direction as I walked by. The second squirrel jumped out to run away. The third squirrel, however, was so hungry, it decided to launch itself toward my face. I couldn’t blame the poor creature — after all, it was in the middle of a freezing winter. However, I was slightly offended that a squirrel would confuse me for a piece of bread.

Apart from my mix of casual and frightening experiences, I’ve also heard others speak of amusing squirrel moments. Last spring, one of my friends gave a squirrel a sugar cookie from his Outtakes (a sort of cafeteria-made sack lunch). The squirrel went crazy, almost like a cat on catnip. Barely able to control itself, it became very jumpy and knocked its head against the tree several times in an apparent sugar high. While it was hilarious, I wouldn’t suggest giving our squirrels any more sugar. Some of them have acquired a ridiculous weight and size; I’m sure they could take down a chihuahua.

Our squirrels help enhance the Grinnell College experience (they’re like members of our student body, only with a bushy tail). It’s another one of those small elements that help characterize the Grinnell environment. Without them, a piece of the puzzle would be missing. Our furry little friends are here to add some amusement into our lives, whether it’s a meeting while walking across campus or outside the window while you’re studying.

That, and they’re always there to share half of your sandwich.

Aki Shibuya '11...

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