Every time Tristan Hood ’18 or Joel Fudge ’21 go out to eat, they make sure to find seats facing the door.
“It’s an awareness thing,” Hood said.
Hood and Fudge are two of the 18 undergraduate student veterans at Brown, and they move through campus more attentively than most.
Fudge also said he has also had to adjust to the University’s timeliness — or lack thereof.
“One of the harder things for me is that nothing is on time,” Fudge said. “In the military, you are not late. You are 15 minutes early, and you are five minutes early to your 15 minutes early.”
Fudge served in the marine corps for four years. Based in Okinawa, his jobs included cleaning up after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. After, fresh out of the military and 22, Fudge worked as a timber faller while his then-girlfriend, Aimée Fudge ’20, finished her time in the marines. At 26, Joel Fudge enrolled at the University through the RUE program.
“There is almost a stigma around Brown — that’s the cream of the crop there,” Fudge said. “How could we ever compete with that? But then, we’ve done a lot of hard things; we can do it.”
Last year, the University nearly doubled its student veteran presence, bringing eight more veterans to College Hill, said Program Director of the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs Karen McNeil. Under her direction, the University is working to further increase the presence of veterans on campus. Since she joined Brown in 2014, the University has increased the volume of programs and services offered to veterans to include orientation and pre-orientation programs, monthly veterans lunches and a dedicated space for student veterans, which launched in September.
Of the veterans enrolled in post-secondary education programs, only 10.7 percent enrolled in private nonprofit institutions. According to McNeil, student veterans typically make up 3 percent of the undergraduate population at public schools and around 1 percent at private schools. In the Ivy League, that number is generally even lower, and at Brown, veterans make up less than a third of 1 percent of undergraduates. On top of their regular course load, student veterans may also face mental health challenges and a lack of representation on campus.
To ease the application process for veterans, the University waives the application fee and guarantees admissions interviews for veterans interested in applying. Fudge said he and his wife felt more confident applying given the free application.
McNeil serves as a guide for veterans looking to apply to the University. Her welcoming presence was the deciding point for Hood, who was choosing between Dartmouth, Penn and Cornell. He was impressed that she cleared her schedule to accommodate Hood’s last-minute visit.
“I have never seen such a supportive network,” Hood said.
Student veterans can bring diversity of experience to the student body.
“I think the military is one of the best representations of the diversity and inclusiveness that (President Christina Paxson P’19) always talks about,” Hood said.
The military is “the original melting pot,” Fudge added.
Student veterans can help to bridge the disconnect between civilians and the military, said Manuel Villagrán ’19.
“Most people don’t have a relative or anyone who has served, so they might get their information about the military through textbooks or the news,” he said. “If students have any questions about the struggles that veterans go through … it’s good to have a veteran around to answer these questions and clarify things.”
John McCrillis ’17.5 echoed Villagrán, saying that he hoped student veterans could share their experiences with other undergraduates.
“Students here are very intelligent, and they’re future leaders of this country,” he said. “It’s good to have veterans in the classroom to try to put a face to decisions that will be made in the future.”
Beyond academic contribution, student veterans have also integrated into University social life.
Villagrán said he feels strongly supported by the student veteran community at the University.
“I spend more time with (veterans) than with any other group on campus,” he said. He feels best understood among student veterans with similar experiences.
Jonathan Hagedorn ’19, who has developed an interest in acting at his time at Brown, said there are too few veterans on campus he can talk with. “There’s no other (student) veteran who’s into acting. I’m the only one that all my friends know,” he said.
Though Fudge, at age 26, is older than the average University student and lives in Warwick with his wife, he has found a community at the University. He began his freshman year attending the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training trip, where he met close friends regardless of the nearly 10-year age gap, he said.
“As a marine, all we did is hide in the jungle,” he said. “So it was a very comfortable experience for me, but then you get to meet a whole new group of people.”
But students have not always made student veterans feel welcome on campus. Just last year, students tore up American flags set up for the annual Veterans Day ceremony, The Herald previously reported.
“Everyone was just really angry last year, and so everything was a target,” Hood said. “The American flag is an easy target, and it affects us because we kind of all wore it. Some of the dudes have it tattooed on their bodies.”
The University response, however, restored faith for student veterans, Hood said.
In a statement last year, Paxson denounced the vandalism and praised students who “came together to replant and guard the flags and summon the Department of Public Safety.”
“If something hadn’t been done, we would have gone out and told people not to come here again,” Hood said.
Since then, the University has made its appreciation for student veterans clear. Hagedorn said he finds the University supportive and accommodating, especially when it comes to his mental health.
Hagedorn came to the University through the standard applicant pool, instead of the RUE program that most veterans use. He was attracted by Brown’s high happiness rating.
“Why did it have to be so shitty all the time? … I just want to be able to get a good education and actually enjoy my life,” Hagedorn said.
Though Hagedorn finds support from his friends, he continues to struggle with the mental effects of his time in the marines.
After boot camp, Hagedorn worked to find improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
“Sometimes you’d find them,” he said. “Sometimes they’d find you, and they blow up one of your trucks.”
During his first semester, Hagedorn never once took off a bracelet, which he wears in memory of Corporal Matthew Rodriguez, a member of his company who was killed in action in December 2013.
Now, he only wears it on days when he struggles most. “I wear it to remind myself that I’m still here, I can still live my life, I have this huge opportunity and I need to take advantage of it,” Hagedorn said.
Since coming to College Hill, Hagedorn has worked with Counseling and Psychological Services to find support. The University has been accommodating in his recovery, allowing for reduced course loads and ample counseling, he said.
Fudge has also found that the University has taken steps to care for his mental health.
“This is the most support I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “I’ve got a Meiklejohn, a peer advisor, a first year advisor, deans that I’ve talked to personally.”
The University hopes to grow the number of student veterans and expand programs for those currently on campus.
“My biggest hope is that the number of (veteran) students on campus is more proportional, that it’s closer to that one percent or above it, putting us on par with the average private university,” said McNeil. “We need that critical mass to have a community.”
McNeil is currently working with alumni to create an affinity organization called the Brown University Veteran Alumni Council to provide mentorship and additional support to student veterans. She also hopes to develop a plan to recruit applicants on military bases.
John McCrillis ’17.5 is grateful to Brown for giving him a chance at a successful civilian life for himself and his family after a gun wound in Afghanistan ended his military career, he said.
“A lot of veterans get stuck in this mold of being a veteran, and that’s all they’ll ever be,” he said. “I didn’t want to have a war story be my definition of my character or who I am. I think Brown offered me a chance … for people to look at me and say that I graduated from an Ivy League school.”