Student veteran population supported

Nov. 12, 2014

By Vesna Brajkovic

As the student veteran population on campus continues to grow, UW-Whitewater accommodations are made to support a growing minority.

UW-W is listed as a “Military Friendly” school and rated four out of five stars on G.I. Jobs for military friendliness. The military friendly designation is given to schools committed to supporting student veterans on campus and in their careers.

Currently, there are 224 student veterans, 70 National Guard and reserve members and 69 dependents of veterans using benefits, according to UW-W veteran affairs coordinator Janice “Jan” Nordin.

Areas of support for students include peer support, transitional support and academic support.

Peer support on campus comes in the form of the Student Veterans organization, Peer Advisors for Veteran Education and the veteran’s lounge.

The Veterans and Service Members Lounge, located on the main floor of Andersen Library and adjacent to the Children’s Area, is perhaps the biggest comfort to student veterans on campus.

“I think it’s just huge for us to have,” said student veteran Conner Bradbury, U.S Marine Corps. “It’s incredible the amount of traffic that the lounge sees. It’s where veterans go whether they want to get away to study or they just want to be around the same commemoratory that they had while they were in the service. I think it’s huge that Whitewater actually has something like that for them.”

Jon Zech, a student veteran, U.S Army, set to graduate this December, hasn’t utilized the lounge this year, but agrees.

“Typically, [at age] 18-22, we [servicemen] were overseas while your average college student is enjoying themselves partying and doing what a college student does,” Zech said. “So, we [servicemen] definitely understand each other; it’s an unspoken sense of understanding.”

The lounge includes a part-time graduate assistant veteran in the lounge to assist veterans, two computers, study space, television, mini-fridge, microwave and a separate meeting room.

Transitional and academic support is also important, according to Zech. Having previously attended to Madison Area Technical College, he saw a big difference in the handling of his paperwork and educational benefits, specifically accrediting the biggest help to Nordin.

In 2010, Nordin received Advocate of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, which recognizes a citizen for providing exceptional service to Wisconsin veterans.

The substantial population of student veterans leaves a lot of opportunity for traditional and veteran student encounters, which may spark curiosity.

When approaching student veterans with questions the general rule of thumb is to use common sense and courtesy, according to Zech. Although every veteran is different, there is a consensus among a few on how to approach someone with questions that “start digging at details about war,” Zech said.

Questions surrounding death, killing and specific details about the events that occurred during service are best avoided unless specifically brought up by the veteran.

“Every veteran has a different story and no two veterans are the same,” Bradbury said. “Some might react differently to one of the taboo questions like, ‘have you ever seen combat?’ or ‘have you ever killed anyone?’ Granted, I’ve never been asked those particular questions. The students – when they [find] out that you were in the military – are just very intrigued by the experience and almost seek you out to better understand the experience that you’ve had, that they haven’t been able to bare any witness to.”

But many veterans, like Bradbury, said they welcome general and less intrusive questions.

“I love talking about my job, it always puts a smile on my face when I tell people that I woke up for four or five years and… I got to play with dogs for that time,” Bradbury said in regards to being a Military Police canine handler in the U.S Marine Corps.

The timing is key, according to Zech.

“It’s right place, right time,” Zech said. “If you see they’re busy, leave them alone and let them do their thing. But I think they’ll be willing to talk about it. Let them speak first usually. That’s not to say you should be afraid to go up and ask them [questions], but try to mindful of the situation that you’re in, and they’re in, at the time. If it’s in line, and you’re getting a soda, and you’re making small talk that’s one thing, but if you see them studying or in the middle of class maybe wait for a different time.”

Support from traditional students on campus is appreciated, but doesn’t need to be overstated.  Bradbury said there’s no need for “crazy banners or bracelets” and that “admiration and respect in and of itself really suffices…”

“I guess the biggest way you can support veterans here at Whitewater is to not only ask them questions about their experiences – so as long as you walk that fine line – is also to give them a chance to explain and express themselves,” Bradbury said. “Because, we as veterans do have a different way of thinking and viewing the world as opposed to the traditional college students.”

Zech agreed veterans, like himself, may have a challenging time adjusting and expressing themselves.

“It’s tough learning how to talk to people again,” Zech said. “We’re always really straightforward and pretty vulgar; kind of like what you see in the movies… Sometimes you just yell at your buddy. You kind of get up in rank and have some guys below you, and you got to drill it into their head otherwise they lose their lives. So, you’re cussin’ a lot… Learning how to talk to civilians again was a challenge.”

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