The University is looking to strengthen and coordinate resources for student veterans, while increasing outreach in the military to develop a larger student veteran population. Following the Corporation’s approval of the University budget last week, a position will be created for a veteran to head the new Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, said Ricky Gresh, senior director for student engagement.
Dedicating resources to support the office was recommended as a critical first step in last fall’s report from the Undergraduate Veterans Subcommittee of the Diversity Advisory Board. The office is a place for student veterans to connect and serve as a source of information for students interested in the military but is still “in its developing stages,” said Matthew Ricci ’16, a Navy veteran and a student coordinator at the office.
The Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs is currently headed by Gresh, who chaired last fall’s subcommittee. Gresh said he is looking to create a network of administrators who act as liaisons for veteran-specific concerns and to “provide greater coordination” for these colleagues. Veteran liaisons extend their services to the Offices of Admission and Financial Aid, as well as to the Resumed Undergraduate Education Program, since many veterans apply as RUE students, Gresh said.
The University has made headway in all the recommendations listed as critical first steps in last fall’s report, Gresh said. A working group out of last fall’s subcommittee is drafting an institutional value statement, which would affirm the importance the University places on military service, Gresh said.
Lauren Rouse ’15, an Air Force veteran, said she has found members of administrative offices and faculty members supportive of her experiences and status as a veteran but said help for veterans is not centralized.
“You have to go out and find it yourself,” she said.
The University is looking to involve more staff members with military experience in mentoring veterans, said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron. The University Resources Committee’s report to President Christina Paxson — approved by the Corporation last week — recommended the University allot $80,000 to the office to hire “a part-time staff director” and fund “modest program and office expenses,” according to the report. This director will be a veteran, as the office needs a designated head “who understands the benefits that are afforded to veterans and the unique situation that veterans come from,” Ricci said.
“The (military) mindset is much different, and you can’t glean that through research,” he said.
Another objective is growing Brown’s veteran community. While the University saw increased numbers of veteran applicants and acceptances last year, there are currently only seven veteran undergraduates, Gresh said. He added that the report from last fall’s subcommittee recommended developing a “critical mass” of veterans, a target which hasn’t been numerically defined. But whatever the critical number of student veterans is, “we don’t feel we’ve achieved that,” Gresh said.
One path to increasing veteran enrollment would be improving the University’s outreach to veterans and the military. “Just about every veteran who is here found out about (Brown) on their own, through the website,” said R. Tyson Smith GS, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology and a member of last fall’s subcommittee. The University could make a bigger name for itself in the military by forging connections with community colleges and local schools with larger veteran populations, Smith said.
Gresh and Ricci met with a representative for the Military Times, a publication well-known in the military, Ricci said. Veterans who have been out of school for years may not even consider Brown, thinking that they have no chance at an Ivy League school, he said, but seeing the University’s name in a military publication could change their minds. “That barrier has to be broken down,” Ricci said.
“There’s a lot that can be done to make people understand that Brown is a place for veterans,” Rouse said. “We’d like to see more outreach to other Rhode Island colleges that have a lot of transfers — they have a lot of veterans.” Rouse herself found out about Brown’s RUE program when she was a student in Quincy, Mass., looking to pursue Middle East Studies, a concentration not offered at many schools.
“In some cases it seemed kind of random” how student veterans found out about Brown, Bergeron said, adding that the University should make a more concerted effort to recruit veterans.
While Brown’s liberal reputation and hesitance over reinstating Reserve Officers’ Training Corps may contribute to the perception that it is unfriendly to the military, student veterans said they have found campus attitudes to be neutral toward the military and veterans. Rather than experiencing hostility, Rouse said she has more often found who students have “a general bewilderment” toward the military.
Choosing to join the military is “a very strange concept to some people here, and I had never encountered that attitude,” Rouse said. But if Brown does not reinstate ROTC on campus, the University will “have a really hard time getting rid of this impression people have of the University of being anti-military,” she said, even though she has found that stereotype to be false.
Ricci said many Brown students have had “limited exposure” to the military and don’t have much knowledge about its branches and lifestyle. “While I do think (the campus attitude toward the military) is neutral, I have often engaged students in conversation about the military, and they do seem to be very enthusiastic and interested,” Ricci said.
Ricci said he hopes to hold an event with a senior military official as an invited speaker along with student veterans sharing their experiences as a way for Brown students to become more familiar with the military. Such an event, like last fall’s Veterans Day ceremony on the Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle, could “bring visibility and engage the campus community in conversation” about the military, Gresh said.
The Committee on Financial Aid in Paxson’s strategic planning process is reviewing financial aid practices, including aid packages for RUE and veteran students, said Erica Cummins, assistant director of financial aid, who works with veteran benefits.
Veterans can receive aid through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and a subset of the bill’s benefits called the Yellow Ribbon Program, Cummins said.
Currently, the University has 20 slots for undergraduate students in the Yellow Ribbon Program, in which veterans or their dependents receive matching funds from the University and the Veterans Association. The 2012-13 academic year was the first in which the office filled all 20 slots, Cummins said, adding that in recent years, the office has benefited from increasing support from and liaisons with the VA, Cummins said.
Last fall’s report recommended that Brown “expand its commitment” to the program in the long term to accommodate a growing student veteran population.