It’s easy for us to count off, probably on more than one hand, the programs we’ve been a part of this year. Those that stand out in our minds probably gave us the greatest challenge, taught us something about ourselves, allowed us to see that “A-Ha” spark of engagement, or provided us an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in departments outside of our own. But, what programs had the greatest impact on our special or unique populations?
On this Memorial Day, one unique student population comes to mind: our veterans. Having worked at an institution that was less than 10 miles from an air force base, currently working at an institution with a significant percentage of students serving or recently transitioning back to life as a civilian, and coming from a family of proud military men and women, this group is always in the forefront of my mind.
If you were to assess your campus programs and services right now, could you explicitly list the transition services offered at your institution to men and women returning from deployment? Did you host a roundtable to hear what your veteran students need from your department? Have you done all you can to help these students transition from a battle mindset to your campus grind? Have you opened the dialogue to discuss how your institution can do more?
Like many of the veteran students on my campus, I care a lot about action and less about words. It’s easy to make services for unique populations a checkbox on an ever growing list of tasks, and a greater challenge to create a relationship with these students. Building relationships is the key. We know that human beings like to laugh, especially those who are returning from high stress situations like the battlefield, so why not extend a personal invitation to a veteran to attend the comedy show your program board is hosting? Military men and women have received many hours of leadership training; are you looking at the future facilitators of a workshop in your leadership portfolio series? If your residence hall floor is looking for a service project, how about becoming pen pals for deployed servicemen and women? Opportunities are endless and reaching out to a unique population can be incorporated into programs and activities you’re already offering.
Your campus is not alone if this unique population hasn’t been in the spotlight. Admittedly, my campus is in the beginning phases of having organized transition services for students going to or returning from deployment. However, together we face this challenge: instead of flowery words, truly honor the service of the many men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice –extend a hand and build a relationship with your veteran students.
Happy Memorial Day.