Oftentimes, veterans who are now students on the Hope College campus are an afterthought among their peers. Whether it be their first or fourth year on campus, they still have a need for recognition, relational support and simple acknowledgement. Many veterans prefer not to be singled out for their service, but acknowledging their service prior to college is only right. There are plenty of hurdles that U.S. military veterans face after enrolling in college following the military, but some challenges could be dissolved simply on the peer level by intentional engagement. That is on us as students. Hope College, as an institution, has set up financial support in relation to the GI bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program and other additional payment coverage plans for veterans. As financial benefits are essential to making a soft landing for veterans returning from their service in the military to college life, it is not the only thing that our veterans need. There is a matchless community our veterans leave behind them upon entering back into civilian life. While students are fixated on degrees and diplomas, U.S. military service members have had their thoughts on much heavier tasks. Our veterans need our community, not just our financial support.
The need for a support network is dire for veterans on campus. While Hope College is not as likely to attract military veterans as a public institution is, it is not exempt from the possibility that students who have served in the military will enroll at the institution. There is much at stake for our veterans, who are not only returning from war, but have lost a community in which many find incomparable camaraderie. A campus veterans’ organization has the ability to help service members feel welcomed and engaged in student life rather than isolated or made to feel as “an outsider” on campus. Hope College does not yet have a veterans student organization. A support group for veterans potentially could re-establish a portion of connection to the lives of our service men and women. Oftentimes, isolation can come easily after the first few weeks of college, as there is little to no common ground between a typical civilian student and a veteran. For a student returning from military service, it is critical that they feel comforted by relatability. Meeting someone who may have experienced something similar to themselves is a great need. To feel understood and met exactly where we are is a basic human need.
The civilian world may be the only world that Hope College students know, but it is an isolating world for someone who has spent years of their life learning about ballistic missiles, training for real-time combat or engaging in war. In an interview done by Military.com, University of Missouri-St. Louis veterans were asked questions initiating the conversation around their adaption to student life after the military. Most of the veterans admitted to the conflict between their military service and student life brings on a daily basis. The students agreed that they do not want to be singled out for their service, but at the same time they do not want to be lumped in with everyone else. In a quote from the interview a student shared, “I don’t need to be recognized for being in the military. You don’t have to look at me and say, ‘He’s a veteran,’ and I don’t need special preference,” Ury said. “But in the same breath, I am appreciative of teachers who say, ‘Yeah this is a veteran and they are not a traditional student and they require special attention.’ Academically we’re different, financially we’re different, in so many ways, we’re different.” The veterans went on to explain that they are different from a typical 18-year-old fresh out of high school, but so often they are lumped together in the student body.
At Hope College, we as students have the ability to not only be inclusive to peers to whom we can relate, but we also have the ability to include veterans whose experiences we often cannot relate to. Instead of glossing over these expansive life-altering differences, acknowledge them and move forward out of your comfort zone to learn about something that may not be very relatable. It could change a friendship, make a day and ultimately create a campus that not only financially, but socially and intentionally supports the lives of returning U.S. military veterans.
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