Veterans Appreciation Week honors student veterans, but is it enough?
Veterans Appreciation Week honored student veterans on campus this week. Although the week featured a variety of events, the university environment is lacking inclusiveness, according to many event organizers and student veterans.
The Veterans Program puts on events because the organization believes that student veterans matter, and so do their specific needs, according to Samantha Roberts, the Veterans Program Graduate Employee Coordinator. “These are individuals that sacrificed a great deal to be here. They deserve more,” said Roberts.
According to Roberts, there are about 400 student veterans enrolled during the academic year. Without a full-time coordinator, it can be difficult to meet all the student veterans needs, Roberts explained.
Roberts is the only program coordinator for the Veterans Program at the UO, and she’s doing it part-time while also going to graduate school. According to Roberts, Western Oregon University has between 100 and 150 student veterans, but they’ve hired a full-time Veterans Program Coordinator to make sure all student veterans’ needs are being met.
Roberts said the Veterans Program is there to help student veterans “transition and acclimate” to a new type of environment. The university environment can be a particularly tough transition for student veterans because of all the different life experiences they have, according to Roberts.
Roberts explained that many student veterans in a university environment feel that the university is doing the bare minimum to “check off a box.”
“Really, every day ought to be Veterans Day,” said University of Oregon Provost and Senior Vice President Jayanth Banavar at the “Unity of Commitment” ceremony on Friday that concluded Veterans Appreciation Week. “Every day is a day that we should think about you, we should celebrate you and we should do all we can to be there for you,” he said.
Being a part of the Veterans Program provides an opportunity to talk about the issue of student veterans’ needs not being met, according to Roberts. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “This is a very specific group of people who are also very diverse in their needs.”
Leah Crewse is the president of the Veteran and Family Student Association (VFSA) and is also a student veteran. She served active duty in the Air Force from 2009-2013. Currently, Crewse is a part of the Air Force reservists, where she goes to Joint Base Lewis-McChord one weekend a month to keep up with her medic certifications and trainings. She also dedicates 15 consecutive days out of the year to the reservist program.
“I think it is vital,” said Crewse of Veterans Appreciation Week. “There are so many student veterans that feel a bit alienated because of their life experiences,” she said.
According to Crewse, because the UO is a public four-year university and many students come from a traditional background, it can be difficult for student veterans to relate to other students and feel like they fit into the university environment.
Crewse said the VFSA is there to empower other student veterans. “We’re your voice…if you don’t attend the events we can’t hear you,” she said.
Joelle Rankins Goodwin is the senior associate director for recruitment administration and was the keynote speaker for the “Unity of Commitment” ceremony.
“We are always brothers and sisters in arms,” said Goodwin. “We have each other’s backs. That is our commitment to one another.”
Roberts is responsible for organizing Veterans Appreciation Week, along with other events throughout the year. The VFSA and the University President’s Office also partner with the Veterans Program for the week’s events. According to Roberts, this week is the largest Veterans Program event of the year, and she’s been planning it since the summer.
The week kicked off on Monday, Nov. 6 with the Student Veteran Center, Peer Advisors for Veteran Education, and the VFSA tabling outside the ERB Memorial Union Terrace to let people know about Veterans Appreciation Week. Monday also started “Operation Toiletries,” a fundraiser benefitting homeless veterans.
This was the first year that “Operation Toiletries” has been a part of Veterans Appreciation Week. The fundraiser was a student’s idea that was hosted by the Veterans Program. Items donated include soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, toilet paper, nail trimmers, feminine products and other toiletry items.
The donations were collected at the Erb Memorial Union Terrace Veterans Program booth, as well as the Student Veteran Center. On Friday, Nov. 10, the donations were collected by St. Vincent de Paul’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and on Saturday, Nov. 11 the organization handed out these donations to the veterans experiencing homelessness in Lane County.
Many student veterans participated in other Veterans Appreciation Week events, like Wednesday’s free brunch provided by the Student Veterans Center, and Thursday’s community night which included mini golf, laser tag and bowling at Putters in Eugene.
The “Unity of Commitment” ceremony wrapped up Veterans Appreciation Week, honoring all student veterans in the Gerlinger Lounge on Friday. All UO students were welcome to help honor student veterans at the ceremony, which was sponsored by the Office of the President.
The ceremony also welcomed student veteran Michael Thomas as a speaker. Thomas urged UO students to go further than thanking veterans around campus for their service and to also ask if they need anything.
“Asking that question to the right veteran may just keep one of the 22 of us who commit suicide every day from doing so,” said Thomas.