On the morning of Nov. 14, Kimberly Millette, program director for the Office of Military-Affiliated Students, entered the University OMAS lounge to find urine on the inside and outside of the microwave, on the fridge and on the floor. The Department of Public Safety is currently working to identify those responsible.
Robert Murray ’23, president-elect of the Student Veterans Society, said that he and other student veterans felt the vandalism was “a deep violation” of their space. The incident was met with anger from the student veteran community, followed by concern over the security and safety of their community lounge. Though the motivation of the vandalism has yet to be determined, Murray expressed that “it’s not lost on us that this happened during Veteran’s Day week.”
Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes and Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Engagement Loc Truong have been in communication with OMAS students to address the incident and to provide support. Truong has also met with Millette and SVS leadership, and the University has replaced the lounge appliances and ensured extensive cleaning of the area.
“We're concerned about (the incident’s) impact on our military-affiliated students, who are treasured members of the Brown community,” Estes wrote in an email to The Herald. “We have worked in recent years to both expand access to a Brown education for veterans and (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) students and to best support those students during their time on campus. We'll continue to do so moving forward.”
The University promised to designate a new communal space for student veterans following this incident, according to Murray. SVS has been advocating for a new lounge space since the start of this semester, as the current one is typically “crowded on a daily basis to the point where serious study cannot occur,” according to a proposal SVS sent to the University Nov. 8 that was reviewed by The Herald. “By code, technically our space has a maximum occupancy of 20 individuals, however, if there are any more than about 10 people in the space, it is far too crowded.”
The lounge, located in Vartan Gregorian Quad, is the only designated communal space for the approximately 70 student veterans and ROTC students at Brown. According to Murray, student veterans use the space every day and many consider it to be their “home” on campus. “The veterans are a pretty small, tight-knit group at Brown, and we basically live in that lounge,” he said.
“There are a significant number of veterans who commute, so people study, do work in there, eat in there,” Murray said. “It’s a space where veterans can be veterans, and we can discuss veteran issues that maybe we wouldn’t feel comfortable (discussing) in some other lounge.” He also added that since most student veterans are older than other undergraduates, the lounge “is nice to have.”
Murray added that the vandalism incident has “put more impetus behind our desire to get out of that space, because why would we want to stay in that space now that it’s been kind of defiled?”
Nonetheless, he is grateful for the University’s promise of a new space, he said. In the long term, Murray said, SVS hopes to establish a program house for student veterans.
Beyond the incident, Murray and the OMAS community have been appreciative of the University’s response and overall support for student veterans. Veterans Week programming and, in recent years, the expansion of veterans’ access to Brown through the reinstatement of the ROTC program, are reflective of this institutional support, he said. “They’ve done a really good job with the funding for scholarships, (and) they’ve got a new application specifically for veterans,” he said.
Still, Murray feels that there is room for change in campus culture in recognizing veterans as a marginalized group on campus. He suggested better “intermixing” of veterans with non-veteran students and the initiation of more productive conversations addressing veterans’ specific perspectives.
“Some students do feel there is … some anti-military sentiment on campus that some veterans feel more than others,” Murray said.