*As the proud daughter of an active duty U.S. army soldier, the writer for this story is a recipient of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon scholarship.
After years serving on the field, they return home to friends and family who have anxiously awaited their return. Now ready to set their lives on a new course, their hearts of service continue to thrive on campus.
They are not missionaries, but rather, military veterans.
“They just want to serve more. It’s always astounding to me, it’s like, ‘You’ve done your duty,’” said Jennifer Alvarez, faculty advisor for the Biola Veterans Association and administrative coordinator for commuter life. “But it’s part of who they are now.”
The BVA hosted their first barbeque on April 13 in celebration of starting a network of support for incoming and current veteran students. While the association remains in its early stages and expect more logistical changes to come, they seek to help bridge the gaps between students, administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s easier for them to approach the BVA before approaching Biola as a whole. So we are ambassadors, we’re liaisons and we’re advocates,” said Fernando Arroyo, vice president of the BVA.
Many public universities nationwide have offices dedicated to assisting veterans in filling out the necessary paperwork to receive their educational benefits, such as the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program. However, because private universities do not receive funding from the government, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they often do not have an office.
This not only provides extra complexities for veterans seeking a higher education after their time in the military, but also hinders their ability to form a strong community of support during their time at school.
“Biola cannot do a good job with helping the needs of the veterans before they figure out and understand what the needs of the veterans are,” Arroyo said. “They have an office for special needs, they have an office for minority groups, they have…. offices for different needs, but they don’t have offices for veterans.”
A DIFFERENT CULTURE
While many veterans continue to get involved in extracurriculars, often more than other non-traditional students, the different ages and life experiences make building a strong community difficult.
“These veterans have [usually] traveled to multiple countries and some of those have seen some ugly stuff…. This Biola culture, and the pipeline to bring students in, is not compatible with veteran culture,” Arroyo said. “Most veterans feel like outsiders, no matter where they’re at.”
This culture goes beyond age, however, to include daily life, such as filling the gas tank or feeding the family, according to Arroyo. While many veterans receive more financial support than traditional undergrads, this also can affect their relationships with other students.
“When you get free education and there’s a bunch of people complaining about college debt, it also makes me feel like I shouldn’t talk about being a veteran,” Arroyo said. “It’s a stumbling block for a lot of people to go to school for free. We’re not going to school for free, we’re cashing in on a deal that we signed up for.”
To help minimize these difficulties, the BVA and several departments across campus have come together to build a network of support and begun compiling a record of veterans currently enrolled in undergrad and graduate programs.
Wale Giwa, recently hired as the new military educational benefits coordinator and compliance specialist, has reached out to some public universities to build partnerships and understand how they organize their veterans offices to ensure a steady move forward.
“One of the things we’re doing is fine-tuning how we collect this data of veterans,” Giwa said. “How do we target veterans, because there are some veterans here who do not use educational benefits… We want to even target all veterans. You have benefits or not, how do we serve you?”
This remains important for veterans to thrive in their education, according to Giwa.
“They don’t have to lose their identity as a veteran, but how do they carry it along, and bring an educational aspect to it and everywhere to make a wholistic formation,” Giwa said.