by Abbie Willans Among the many clubs and organizations at Ball State, few are so often discussed or misunderstood as the Anthropomorphic Art Society – more widely known as the “furries”. While some fans argue about what exactly makes someone a furry, a popular definition is that a furry is anyone who enjoys anthropomorphic art. In this case, the word anthropomorphic can be used to mean a creature or object which has human-like features, such as the ability to walk and talk. Probably the most well-known activity furries participate in is dressing up in a sort of costume, or a “fursuit”. These are often handmade and commissioned to look like specific characters. The biggest difference between a fursuit and a mascot or other costume is that they are original designs, usually modeled after a person’s “fursona”. The Anthropomorphic Art Society’s president, Stephen Vogel, described fursonas as “…people making a character that represents themselves, with an animal they associate with.” While Simba from The Lion King or Meowth from Pokemon are anthropomorphic, they’re not considered furries. “It’s aspects of yourself that you would like or that you would like to have, in the form of a character that you find aesthetically pleasing,” Vogel said. “A lot of people in the community aren’t very outgoing, but they are when they’re in a fursuit. You don’t have to be yourself, you can be who you want to be without judgment.” A Google study from 2011 suggested that there are between 1.4 to 2.8 million furries worldwide, and those numbers have likely grown since then. However, monetary costs are a major barrier for many furries, as a used suit can be several hundred dollars and a brand new one can be more than $2,000. Additionally, they can be very hot on the inside and hard to move and see with. Ball State student Kevin McMinn, who is featured in the header image of this article, described it as feeling like you’re inside an oven. Most fur suiters wear Under Armour or some sort of second layer to keep from getting sweaty. He is one of the few people in Ball State’s club to own his own suit. He frequently wears his fursona, Helix, to Late Nite and other events. Many suiters choose to have handlers with them, to keep themselves and others safe. The suits are extremely hard to see out of, making it difficult for suiters to watch what others are doing. This is especially true in large crowds, or at furry conventions. Midwest FurFest and Anthrocon are two of the biggest furry conventions, and they have huge impacts on the cities that host them. Nearly every furry convention chooses a charity to support, usually something that benefits animals. They can normally raise several thousand dollars in just two or three days. Megaplex Con in Orlando raised more than $42,000 for the C.A.R.E. Foundation, which rescues wild animals. Anthrocon, the world’s largest furry convention held in Pittsburgh, gave almost $36,000 to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in 2015. This year Chicago’s Midwest Furfest is donating to Save-A-Vet, an organization which helps save military and law enforcement animals from euthanasia. Former Ball State student and furry fan, Benjamin Stohler, has attended many conventions and was one of the first members of AAS. “Absolute creative freedom is by far the biggest incentive to join [the fandom]. Everything that you see furries create is original artwork, and there are plenty of examples. If it's traditional art, written stories, music compositions, performed art; we've got it covered,” Stohler said. Stohler also noted however that the creativity of the community is often overshadowed by misconceptions people have of them. According to a study by [adjective][species], most people in the furry fandom are male and identify somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. This connection, along with misleading media coverage, has led to a serious stigma surrounding the fandom. Vogel stated that while there is a sexual aspect to the fandom for some people, they are very much in the minority. “What gets people’s views is weird stuff, so they like to find the weirdest people in our community. I’ve only seen a few positive published video of us by journalists, and one of them was part plant. We’re like, what? No one’s part plant!” he said. Most fursonas are mammals; frequently carnivores like cats or dogs. The most common misconception is that fursuits are some kind of fetish. “There are people who will say stuff to us, and it’s not always nice. Most people are kind of intimidated. They think we’re all about sex in fursuits. If you want to have sex in the fursuit, you might as well being having sex in a sofa on the sun,” Vogel said. “We do not want that to be our face – BSU or any of the furries. There’s that aspect in any fandom that you get into. We aren’t about that. The media likes to take those negative stigmas and blow them up, and it hurts our community,” Vogel continued. A furry was even featured on the popular daytime show, Dr. Phil. It was not presented in a positive light, shown alongside a woman who tried to breastfeed her pets and a man who tried to live as a dog. Dr. Phil mistakenly compared fur suits to sports mascots. “It's the misconceptions that are carried over from other groups that causes the negativity [from other groups]. We're only weird because the general public don't know what we're about, and we're too small to have a larger voice,” Stohler said. “We are a community that supports each other, and that doesn’t show a lot because of the negativity in the media, and the only way that comes through is our charity,” Vogel said. The Ball State Anthropomorphic Art Society was started in 2009 by Shawna Gardner, then a freshman. She left temporarily the next year because of grades, when a few others took over. “We didn't really recruit members that year, but we went to furry conventions in Chicago, Novi, and downtown Indy; we got involved in the Ball State community; and we got our name heard. Now, we've snowballed and became this massive group. In retrospect, I can't believe how large AAS has become,” Stohler said. “We will not ever negatively judge a person's art style, opinion, or sexual orientation without constructive criticism; because we're all quirky and different in our own individual ways. The furry community is about being yourself, being creative, and being honest. It's awesome.” The Anthropomorphic Art Society meets in the Student Center on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to their Facebook page.