Veterans and Family Student Association strives to establish communal environment for students who served in the military

University of Oregon students Jonathan Brunton, Mackensie Southard, Kris Kimberling and Cody Schmidt@@all [email protected]@ function as a unit. The four men are from different backgrounds, pursuing different academic paths, looking for different things out of their futures. Despite their diverse interests and upbringings, these men find themselves united by a bond stronger than ideological differences — they served in the U.S. military.

Gathered on the couches constituting their temporary meeting place in Suite 2@@styled this [email protected]@ of the Erb Memorial Union —@@[email protected]@ a space they share with the Men’s Center and the Designated Driver Shuttle — these men serve as representatives of the Veterans Family and Student Association,@@[email protected]@ a campus organization dedicated to providing mentorship and academic assistance to student veterans and their family members.

One of the organization’s main goals is to aid veterans with the transition from the military back into academic life. According to Brunton, the change from rigid military discipline into a college lifestyle can be an unexpected shock. As co-directors of the VFSA, he and Southard have taken it upon themselves to create an environment in which established student veterans can help ease the transition for their less-experienced peers.

“For most of us, we got out of high school and went right into the military, so transitioning back into school is very difficult,” he said. “People like us who have been here for a year or two try to help the people who are just coming in.”

Another challenge veterans face is an inability to connect socially with those around them, Brunton said. Although they find support from members of the nontraditional student sector of the UO, members of the VFSA  prefer to be surrounded by people who understand their military experiences and can relate to the unique circumstances faced by veterans, finding comfort in one another’s familiar military mannerisms.

“The VFSA is so important to veterans on this campus because we have a place where we can go and share our concerns, and we can feel comfortable doing that and help mentor and help each other,” Kimberling, the assistant director of the VFSA said. “We don’t want to go to someone who doesn’t know what we’re talking about and doesn’t understand what our experiences are.”

In addition to creating an atmosphere in which student veterans can find academic and social support, VFSA aims to debunk some of the popular myths surrounding the veteran stereotype.

“One of the biggest things we’re trying to get out to everybody is that not every student veteran has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder … and not every student veteran is a heavy drinker,” Brunton said. “We’re just as positive as anybody else, and we also have a lot of experiences that we can talk to everybody about if we’re just approached the right way.” @@[email protected]@

The association also welcomes into its midst the spouses and children of those serving. They invite anyone dealing with the active deployment of a family member to seek counseling from a VFSA member who might be familiar with their situation.

In addition to social mentorship, the association is working on implementing academic initiatives to help the student veteran demographic. Projects in the works include “Textbooks for Veterans,” which would loan donated texts for use to veteran students, and “Veterans to Success,” a mentorship program that would connect upper-level veteran students with successful college graduates for the purposes of commercial networking and job-search advice.

Since signing on as co-directors of the organization, Brunton and Southard have been lobbying the UO for a private gathering space designed to suit specific veteran purposes. Recently, the pair saw their actions pay off when they were designated space in the EMU previously occupied by the U.S. Post Office. The ribbon cutting will take place on April 20.

The veterans hope a new space will allow them to reach out to more of their own on campus, helping them expand their company dynamic to veterans struggling for a place to fit in.

“By being in the military, it doesn’t matter what generation you’re in, you all share that same camaraderie,” Brunton said. “It  doesn’t matter which branch you were in, you will relate with each other and understand that story.”

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Sami Edge

Sami Edge

Sami is the Editor In Chief of The Emerald. Former intern at Willamette Week and aspiring international investigative reporter. Swimmer, writer, dreamer, reader, thinker, explorer and drinker of strong coffee.