Big Red Bun inspires community, promotes well-being
A Cornell senior’s two-year-old rabbit, Finn, has become Internet famous as a symbol of hope and health amid the pandemic.
When Finn hopped into the life of Erin Scannell ’21 in February 2019, she found herself taking a lot of photos of the lovable Holland Lop bunny. With floppy ears, long whiskers and distinctive orange fur, Finn quickly captured the hearts of Scannell’s friends and classmates, too — inspiring Scannell to create the Big Red Bun Instagram account. Two years later, Finn’s account has surpassed 10,000 followers and has become a source for Cornellians worldwide to follow his adventures on campus and find messages in support of COVID-19 safety and mental health and well-being.
Scannell got Finn to boost her mental health and cope with loneliness she experienced after transferring to Cornell in fall 2018. An animal science major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Scannell lived alone during her first semester, and she says the toll of schoolwork and not knowing many others on campus weighed on her. But having Finn as a companion, she discovered, helped to ground her and gave her something to look forward to upon returning home after classes and study sessions.
“He didn’t know anything bad was happening,” Scannell says. “He knows when I don’t feel well and he kind of just sits with me. Sophomore year, he helped me focus on myself and prioritize my mental health.”
Named after Finn McCools, a favorite restaurant of Scannell and her grandmother, Finn is a certified emotional support animal that comforts Scannell when she is experiencing anxiety or feelings of depression. While Scannell was initially hesitant to let others know how Finn was helping her, she eventually opened up about her mental health — which she often speaks about in her posts accompanying Finn’s photos. Scannell’s openness has led friends and strangers to ask her about transferring, emotional support animals and other advice.
“My goal was to be more open about myself and encourage other people to be open about themselves and break the stigma to start a conversation,” Scannell says. “One of the best ways to start is with a cute little animal picture.”
As the Big Red Bun attracted a following, Scannell’s therapist asked her what she planned to do with her platform, inspiring her to use it to prioritize mental health messaging and lead fundraisers for mental health support at Cornell.
“I could just post cute pictures all the time and that could be good enough, but I have the attention of all these people,” Scannell says. “Why not do some things for the greater good?”
Scannell continues posting daily to Instagram, and she uses her platform to speak on broader issues, including COVID-19 public health messaging. Outfitting Finn with signs reading “Do the Daily Check” and “Wear a Mask,” and even posing Finn with her vaccination card, Scannell has reinforced public health guidelines in a light and accessible way.
When Cornell classes shifted to remote instruction last year, Scannell remained in Ithaca, where she was able to explore the largely empty campus with Finn. The best part, she says, was providing updates for classmates who didn’t get a chance to see the campus in the spring. Posts of Finn included photos of the cherry blossoms blooming in Ho Plaza, as well as shots from McGraw Tower and Libe Slope, helping students to feel connected to campus while they were away. Throughout the pandemic, as campus continues to be closed to outside visitors and with some students unable to attend in-person classes, she hopes the Big Red Bun account continues to help others feel a part of the campus experience.
In giving back to the Cornell community, Scannell has also gained a lot from Finn and the Instagram account. Having Finn has allowed her to talk to more people and create a community focused on something she enjoys, and she says that Finn has helped her find her place at Cornell and gain more self-confidence.
As her senior year concludes, Scannell is excited for Commencement, where she plans to decorate her cap with photos of Finn, hoping that everyone who sees her cap will recognize the bunny. Finn will also wear a graduation cap for the ceremony.
“He’s a little star,” Scannell says.
Written by Jamie Crow
Strategic Communications at Cornell University