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Student veterans discuss navigating campus

Small but growing military community struggles with academic transition, acceptance

In July 2018, Katie Yetter ’22 was stationed in Japan, working as an aircraft mechanic for the United States Marine Corps. One month later, Yetter began her first semester at Brown.

“My transition was difficult — leaving my family in the Marines (and) coming to a school that I’ve never been to, in a city that I’ve never been to,” Yetter said. “And I’ve never lived in a city before.”

Yetter is not the only student who served in the military before coming to the University. Currently, there are 21 student veterans on campus, said Kimberly Millette, program director at the Office of Military-Affiliated Students. And Yetter is far from the only student veteran who struggled with their transition to Brown. The Herald spoke with four student veterans about their experiences at the University.

Tiara Young ’23 — who served in the Marine Corps as an avionics calibration technician — came to the University this fall in a U-Haul with her infant daughter, Abi, and a dream of going to medical school. On weekdays, Young goes to class from nine until noon, works in OMAS from noon to five, then picks up her daughter from daycare and returns to her home in East Providence.

“The veteran community has made that transition easier,” Young said. Having other student veterans on campus has “felt more like the community in the Marine Corps. … Maybe it’s the humor or maybe it’s the way we understand each other.”

Student veterans often turn toward each other for support. Yetter said that the other student veterans “put my fire out. I get all worked up when I speak my mind. … They will always have my back, and that is something you hear in the Marine Corps. And that’s extremely important to me.”

Joel Fudge ’20, who served in the Marine Corps, appreciates that student veterans communicate well with each other. “It might be a really small community, but it’s really supportive.”

But fitting into the larger University community has sometimes been difficult for student veterans.

Young remains hesitant to tell other students on campus that she is a veteran. “I don’t think anyone knows I’m in the military unless I say it,” she said. “I don’t know how they would view (me) or how their perception of anything I said would change.”

One incident on Veterans Day 2016 — when some students ripped American flags out of the ground before the University’s annual Veterans Day ceremony — has made Young “cautious” to reveal that she is a veteran. Other student veterans interviewed by The Herald felt similarly about the incident.

“When I think about narrowing the (civilian-military) divide, I think about reminding civilians that the individuals in the military … are people too,” Millette said. “A lot of times, it’s very common to see a student veteran feel ‘othered’ because another student said something about the war, or maybe about the Presidential administration or maybe about the institution of the military itself, without seeing them as a person who sacrificed their minds, their bodies and years of their life for everyone.”

Yetter said she knows veterans who have been called Nazis for speaking about their beliefs. “The hardest part is feeling like an outcast,” Yetter said. “Students assume, ‘You’re in the military, you did all these bad things,’… I want more than anything during my time here to change this perspective.”

Adjusting to academic life on campus also proved difficult for student veterans interviewed by The Herald.“There’s not really a sense of advising for non-traditional adult students,” Yetter said. “We don’t have the same stress levels. I’m worried about if I can pay my rent or if I can get my food for next month. I work two jobs and four jobs over the summer.”

Joel Fudge, an environmental studies concentrator, lives in Warwick, R.I. with his wife Aimee Fudge ’20 and their dog, Roux. For Joel Fudge, the veteran and environmental science communities — which are both relatively small — were his main friend groups when he first came to the University.

Joel Fudge “wanted to get to know more students at Brown,” which inspired him to become a Brown Outdoor Leadership Training leader over the summer. “BOLT was one of the first experiences I did at Brown, and it was one of the best experiences,” Fudge said. He “went from knowing maybe 50 people” to not being able to walk through campus without saying hello to people he has met.

“I’ve tried to make it so that my experience is close to a regular student’s,” Fudge said. “I want to get a little of that experience.”

For student veterans interviewed by The Herald, transitioning to academic life at the University was also a major adjustment. Students who enroll at the University right after high school “have academically prepared for Brown,” Millette said. “They’re going to great schools, they’re getting great scores (and) they’re the top of their class. That isn’t always the case for veterans.” She added that while some veterans have taken classes during or after their service, many haven’t been in school for “five to ten or more years.”

Before arriving at the University this fall, Young hadn’t attended high school since 2013. The hardest part of her transition to the University has been “trying to remember everything from six years ago,” she said.

Conall Finn ’22, who served as an Arabic language analyst in the Army, felt similarly about his transition back to academic life. The toughest part was “getting back into the academic grind. I had the language classes, but studying for those is much different than studying for a math class, so that was something I had to get used to: doing homework (and) studying for tests.”

Student veterans interviewed by The Herald credited the work of Millette and OMAS with improving their experience on campus.

“Millette been extremely helpful,” Joel Fudge said. “I’m able to walk into her office with a problem, and I know she’ll get to it.”

Young added that OMAS helped her find new communities when she first arrived on campus.

“My role is for the students — to be the support they need (that) they may not feel sometimes on campus,” Millette said. “Not only do I have an open-door policy that they can talk to me whenever they need, but I’m also creating programs to allow them to connect with other individuals on campus so that they see that I’m not their only supporter.”

Thanks to Millette’s work, OMAS moved over the summer from its prior space in Faunce House to its more accessible current location in Vartan Gregorian Quad, Finn wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

Some student veterans interviewed by The Herald said they have also found support beyond OMAS.

“My professors know I’m a parent and a veteran, and they worked with me, especially when midterms came,” Young said. When Young’s daughter had pneumonia early in the semester, one professor offered to watch her if she was sick during the class’s midterm.

While student veterans interviewed by The Herald have found support around campus, they emphasized the need for continued communication to better integrate veterans into the University community.

“So many people that come to Brown don’t have any interactions with people in the military at all,” Finn said, adding that he had never met anyone in the military until he enlisted.

“It is so important for conversations to happen,” Yetter said. “I started off hating the military. But through other Marines sitting down with me, it made me fall in love with it.”



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