One morning, early in my career working with military-connected students, I was approached by a veteran. It was one of those weeks close to midterms when the stress factor was high and our counseling services were booked. As I approached my office I saw a young man waiting in the lobby. It was early, and I had not yet had my coffee. I invited Alex in and we sat down for some small talk. When I asked him if everything was alright he slumped in his chair, looked at the ground and said, “I don’t feel like I fit in here.” When I asked him what “here” meant he elaborated that the university felt like a “whole other world.” He shared several things about not connecting with his classmates, an impending divorce, feeling little purpose in his life since leaving the Marine Corps, and uncertainty about his future career prospects. I don’t mean to minimize what he shared when I say it was a story I’ve heard many times from the students I’ve worked with.
To make matters worse, earlier in the week Alex had been singled out in one of his classes. It was a discussion about immigration and his professor asked him pointedly in the middle of a lecture, “You served in Iraq, what do you think about the military’s role in enforcing laws along the U.S. and Mexico border?” As Alex explained to me, not only was his service background revealed to the entire class without his permission but all of a sudden he found himself in a position as spokesperson and expert for the entire military and on border patrol issues. It was a classic example of a well-intentioned faculty member who attempted to bring a student into the conversation but crossed a line he didn’t realize was there. It was evident that we needed to train our campus.
Since 9/11, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military. Among the faculty and staff ranks of higher education, veteran status is seldom found. National data suggests that student veterans find it difficult to connect with their campus communities and part of this disconnect is feeling misunderstood, unsupported by faculty, and for some veterans, a perception that the “liberal” institution of higher education is antagonistic toward the military.
A climate that authentically welcomes military-connected students is paramount for recruitment and retention. But most importantly, there’s a responsibility that comes with working in education and part of this duty is recognizing our diverse and evolving student landscape and the importance of equipping ourselves with the tools and resources that lead to greater understanding.
This module and video, and accompanying field guide, discusses the necessity of having an educated and well-informed campus in order to effectively serve military-connected students. The following topics will be addressed:
- The significance of Veteran Ally training and how it works
- The structure of the Veteran Ally training
- Student veteran input and collaboration
- What to emphasize and what to be cautious of
- Lessons learned
This, and other student veteran program training, are available through the Camouflage to Campus training program created by Veteran Transition Publishing – a division of College Transition Publishing.