Student veterans push for themed housing
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 00:10
The circumstances U.S. Armed Forces face today cause student veterans who live on campus to have a hard time transitioning from their military lifestyle to civilian one.
For this reason, ResLife has implemented a new veteran housing plan on campus. The new program has an option for student veterans to choose other student veterans as roommates.
“The new housing program has not worked,” said John Arnett, class of 2012, former R.A. and U.S. Marine. “Veteran housing has not helped at all.” Arnett recalled three people he knew that signed up for the program and were not given correct housing.
Arnett continued, “UConn does not see a need for veteran housing. The university thinks that by placing the student veteran with the general undergraduate population, he/she will acclimate better to college life. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect.”
Arnett is also a teaching assistant for the veterans class that helps veterans transition to civilian life more easily. He stated that the program is not working is because there are no statistics gathered on student veterans. Although they know who receives the benefits, they do not know how many student veterans are actually on campus.
Also, most veterans are typically older than the average college student, which makes it difficult for them to relate to and identify with other students. Many veterans move off campus very quickly because of an independent mindset to “adapt and overcome.”
“If we are having issues on campus, why stay here?” Arnett said.
Some student veterans face feelings of isolation, loss of identity and post traumatic stress disorder everyday. Many student veterans agree that a “Themed Living” program similar to what the university does for its transfer students would be a tremendous help to combat that.
For three years now, efforts have been made to make a floor or two dedicated to student veterans. However, only the latest veteran housing policy has come out of ResLife.
“Themed living will help build an identity and help transition better. Securing identity in the veteran culture is a must-have for the success of a veteran undergraduate career,” Arnett said.
“I feel like we’re an invisible population,” Andrew Lyon a U.S. Army veteran and 5th-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said.
Paul Gaines, the coordinator of Veterans Services, said, “The student veteran population is an emerging constituency that is a growing population, and it’s going to grow in the next several years due to the economy.”
Despite the slow response to the requests of student veterans, Gaines said the University is willing to have a dialogue. But things take time.
With more veterans looking to get an education and the Veterans Oasis being the only safe place for veterans on campus to be without a culture conflict, more student veterans see a need for a “Themed Living” option for on-campus housing.
“My belief is that themed housing would be the number one thing the school can do to support veterans.” Lyon said. “I’ve been asked if I have ever killed anyone before. I said, what if I did say yes? Non-veterans just don’t understand.”
The importance of having “Themed Living” has been a growing issue in the recent past. With age and life experience gaps being the main issue, the University is losing out on a tremendous opportunity to make student veterans feel more connected than ever before.
“Personally, I have had to overcome obstacles with age gaps and life experience gaps with traditional students. Most of us have lived on our own for at least four years, that lifestyle combined with military experience made it difficult to relate,” said Garrett Taylor, the president of the Veteran Student Organization and a 4th-semester finance major.
“Rather than forcing veterans to live off-campus, themed housing would create a safe environment for veterans other than the Oasis,” Lyon said. “Veterans add a dimension to the classroom and to the campus that makes the University a better place.”
This is part of the reason why veterans should be able to have a housing option that can actually work. “It is easy for a veteran to disappear, especially for commuter veterans. Go to class, then go home,” Lyon added.
Meg Sirag, president of the Woman’s Veterans Group, said, “It would be a unique experience to live in an understanding environment.”
Sirag is a senior nursing major who served in the Army, and is looking for a way to help reach out and provide assistance in any form to veteran woman. “It is difficult to reach out to women veterans. Having veteran-themed living would help,” Sirag said.
Like many other veterans on campus, Sirag would like a way to feel accepted in the community. Veterans are just students; the only difference is they served in the Armed Forces.
“We want themed living to create exposure to make us seem like a more tangible group and make us seem more real,” Sirag said. “Veteran-themed housing would create a transition between service member to student.”
In a late response to an interview, John Saddlemire, the vice president of Student Affairs, said, “The challenge is in assessing student veteran needs and determine in what ways they are different from the general population. I agree that we have had some come to us stating a desire to create a themed housing option. Others have said that is not what they are interested in. Male Veterans and female veterans have also defined their needs differently. I can tell you that UConn is very committed to becoming a more and more veteran friendly environment, whether that is through housing, academic policies, parking policies or specific support through Student Health Services. In fact, we have a full time Veteran’s Services Coordinator position on the market right now (you can see this on the UConn website). We know we need this expertise and are committed to hire in individual to lead our campus in its response to all veterans; students, faculty and staff.”