This past Veterans Day, I participated in a panel discussion at Georgetown that examined the relationship between civilians and members of the military. Despite the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks hosted the discussion, the event was under attended. Less than half the ICC Auditorium was filled, and most of the members of the audience had served in the military themselves or were closely connected to someone that had.
Missing from the discussion were those who would have benefited from it most: students with little understanding of the military and little contact with student veterans. Their absence points to the weakness of the dialogue between students who have served in the military and the majority of the student body that has not.
There are reasons to believe that interaction between the two groups is increasing and becoming less superficial, though. Two new groups dedicated to issues concerning the military, veterans, and their relationship to Georgetown have been formed within the past semester and one has gained official recognition by the University. This is undoubtedly a good thing. Many Georgetown students expect to find work after graduation with the government, often in roles that will have them working side by side with members of the military, and they will benefit tremendously the more they understand about the military and its workings.
“There are a lot of students who want to work with the State Department or the [Department of Defense]; to be successful everyone should speak the same language,” Margaret Mullins (SFS ’10) one of the main organizers of the Veterans Day Panel, said. “It’s important for Georgetown students to talk with the future leaders of the military.”
Dialogue between students and student veterans is also important in helping veterans integrate into the campus and their new lifestyles as students. Peter Nesbitt (SFS ’12), who spent six years serving in the Army in South Korea, said the transition to college can sometimes be rougher than most veterans expect.
A notable step towards better dialogue between students and student veterans was the recognition of the Georgetown University Student Veterans of America as an official campus organization last month. The group is looking to make Georgetown more attractive to prospective veteran students and more supportive of Georgetown veterans or family of veterans.
Barbara Mujica, a professor of Spanish at Georgetown whose son served in Iraq, said that Elizabeth O’Herrin, the Associate Director of the American Council on Education, once told her that Georgetown University was behind the curve on veterans’ issues.
“When I first started working on veterans’ issues last semester, we didn’t even have a veterans’ web page,” Mujica wrote in an e-mail.
Mujica recently became a faculty advisor to GUSVA, and has been working to turn things around.
Another group that is focused on improving relations between civilians and members of the military is the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services. The group was originally founded at Tufts in 2006, but Mullins has been working on creating a chapter here at Georgetown. Mullins says the group, which is holding its first general interest meeting next week, is working to gain recognition from the University.
The creation of these two new groups is an important step forward, but more can still be done, Mujica said. Registrar John Pierce promised to include a question about veteran status on the personal information section of the Georgetown application. Georgetown should follow through with this promise. This would allow the University to know for sure how many student veterans are attending Georgetown. (Currently the University only keeps track of how many students receive veteran’s benefits.) The University should also follow through with a promise it gave to Alan Ardelean, president of Georgetown’s chapter of the University Military Association, to increase the amount of financial aid available to veterans.
It should also begin forming a Student Veteran Services Office. Such an office was created in 2009 at The George Washington University, and according to Brian Hawthorne, the president of the GWU Veterans Organization, the office has already done much to improve the student veteran experience by facilitating discussion between student veterans and administrators and simplifying the process of obtaining student veteran benefits.
By demonstrating genuine support for veteran issues through the creation of a Student Veterans Services Office, the administration will make Georgetown a more attractive choice for veterans, help those that chose to come here more comfortable, and foster further dialogue between students experienced in the military and those who know little about it.
With the perspectives and experience they bring, every Georgetown student stands to benefit from a larger student veteran presence on campus. For a school so widely respected for the quality of its political and foreign affairs education, Georgetown has, until very recently, failed to give much attention to the military dynamic of these fields. Following through on its tentative firsts steps would broaden students’ views and give Georgetown the chance to lead other Universities in veteran’s affairs, not lag behind the curve.
Do you also love your country? E-mail Galen at email@example.com
Saxa Politica is a bi-weekly column about campus news and politics.