Walking down Rutford Avenue on Halloween, you may see something unexpected: a parade of students dressed up as humanoid animals, with furry bodies and cartoonish eyes. These Comets are furries, people who dress up as anthropomorphic animals, and they say their community offers opportunities for social engagement, academic development and emotional support.
The UTD furry community, which began in 2018 with approximately 20 members, now includes hundreds. Anyone can join so long as they have an interest in anthropomorphic animals. However, this growth has not come without its challenges. Jonathan Gerhart, a fifth year ITS student and events coordinator for the UTD furry community, said that due to its rapid growth, the community is disorganized, making it difficult to become an official student organization. The group interacts both over Discord and in person, where creating personalized fursonas — or anthropomorphic animal personas — provides a unique sense of identity for its members.
“We are bound together by a very innate and personal way that we experience our lives through our personas of anthropomorphic animals,” Gerhart said. “Some people just like the art, for some people, it’s an inner reflection of their own being.”
Gerhart said the group has faced some internal fragmentation over the prospect of becoming an official student organization, as some members feel anxious over sharing their real names or net IDs.
“It’s always met with mixed responses from leadership, and most recently it encouraged a change of leadership,” Gerhart said. “There is just so much fear in the UTD furry community of ridicule and rejection.”
Belsi, a computer science senior and head moderator of the furry discord server, said that UTD furries use both Discord and Telegram to discuss shared interests and classes as well as organize events. They also said the furry community helps members navigate college — both academics and career opportunities — and supports its members.
“I’ve gotten way more support from the furry community at UTD than [from] anything academic or professional,” Belsi said. “It’s been very impactful from my college experience [in] lots of ways … It’s been very beneficial for me socially and so it’s helped me understand and appreciate my identity as a gay man, being able to be a part of a community that is as it is.”
Computer science freshman Brayden Chung said he first became interested in the furry community through Echo, a furry visual novel centered around psychological horror.
“They’re normal,” Chung said. “They’re more normal than I thought. It’s not a furry that happens to be a CS student. It’s more like a student that happens to be a furry.”
UTD furries found Chung on Discord after looking for other students who might be furries; after seeing his profile picture of a cougar, they sent him a DM. After joining, he updated his profile picture to his fursona, first a blue canine and later a brown cat with small blue horns. He said that not every furry owns a physical fursuit and not everyone in the furry community wants a fursuit; Chung himself originally dismissed the idea but has now considered a partial suit, typically consisting of a head and paws. He said that a fursona is an opportunity to act as someone else.
“It’s different for everyone,” Chung said. “In some cases, it’s an idealized version of a person, but in other cases, it is just them as a person … I want myself to be more huggable or my persona to be more huggable, so I’ll make it fluffy.”
Chung said he initially disliked furries, as he thought the community fetishized animals. But after interacting with furries at UTD, he found this untrue.
“I want to say that it is not a sexual thing…[instead] it’s an easy way to meet new people on campus,” Chung said.
Gerhart said the Discord holds weekly “fur meets” somewhat discreetly, as only furries are invited directly. However, others can come as a plus-one. Events hosted on campus include their annual Halloween march, where participants put on their fursuits and walk down Rutford Avenue. Gerhart and others also come together to attend meetups like the Furry Fiesta in Dallas which, according to WikiFur.com, is fourth-most attended furry meetup in the world.
“When I did get a fursuit, I was able to wear my fursuit and walk around on campus with all these other furries,” Belsi said. “Some people thought it was weird, some people thought it was funny. But overall, there was just a lot of positivity and lots of fun just having that experience with my friends and seeing random people smile and wave.”
Gerhart said he actively looks for other furries on campus to bring them into the fold, looking for students with furry-related attire from masks to shirts. He said the community is highly social and values respect and non-judgment in their interactions with others.
“If you think that you are a furry or if you’re curious about joining us, just reach out. If you see someone in the UTD Discord with a furry profile picture, they’ll send you in the right direction,” Gerhart said. “We’re here to help. We’re here to protect our own. We’ll help you, and we’ll give you a sense of community … I think we’re something special here at UTD, and I hope that other people can find their home here in the furry community.”