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Student Veteran Life

by Samantha Powers

Student veterans are a key component of the University of Washington. In 2015-2016, they made up nearly 5% of the total Seattle campus population, and numbered 611 discharged veterans, 63 guardsmen, 90 reservists, and 133 active duty service members. Bothell saw 152 student veterans come through their doors, while Tacoma saw 400. There were four student veterans who were a part of the inaugural Husky 100 in 2016, and they can be found in 125 of the 180 majors offered at the University of Washington. 

Student Veteran Life was established in January of 2016 as a unit for student veterans founded by student veterans. SVL is home to a staff of skilled veterans who can help student veterans navigate the University of Washington. From identifying campus locations to student resources, the office is able to serve student veterans at any point in their college experience. Located in the HUB, Student Veteran Life is also a great place for veterans to study, grab a free cup of coffee, use the printer, and, most importantly, meet other veterans. On average, the office sees 22 veterans per day, a number that is continuously growing! As an organization, we make it our mission to reach our new student veterans within the first 90 days that they are on campus. In doing so, we hope to maintain communication throughout their time here, ensuring that they leave the UW with the most positive experience and a diploma in hand. Though Student Veteran Life is already providing or has initiated a number of valuable programs, there is much to be done in the years to come.

Photo by Conrad Blake

The mission of Student Veteran Life is to achieve three main objectives:

  1. Create centralized services and programming that supports student veterans and their dependents in their academic endeavors;
  2. Grow and strengthen the veteran community and identity by cultivating a sense of pride in the sacrifices that student veterans have made in service to their country; and
  3. Represent the unique position and needs of our veteran constituents. 

Student Veteran Life’s vision for years 1 and 2 includes the following initiatives:

The Whole Veteran Initiative is the newest, three pronged approach to hands-on, interactive direct services to student veterans in a holistic way.  In an effort to address mental health, SVL offers alternative healing methods through art courses taught by a local artist who has a passion for working with veterans.  We are looking to expand these art classes in many ways.  There are also two service dogs who are in the Student Veteran Life office most days.  These offer comfort to student veterans and alert us when there might be issues.  We address healing through fitness by running, working out, and offering hiking courses.  Boxing classes are also being considered.  We have partnered with the Mindfulness Project to offer yoga classes to student veterans.  We are exploring meditation and tai chi for the future as well. 

Building Community is also a key component in this process.  Successful annual events are being continued, to include a Memorial Day ceremony in May and Veterans Appreciation activities in November.  Additionally, new annual events have been launched and continue to be launched during this first year, to include a Service Dogs Unleashed event (where service dogs come off leash and can mingle with folks on campus; also an opportunity to answer questions about service dogs); a Coming Home event (where the American Indian and Native Alaskan tribal tradition of calling home their warriors is replicated for all current and alumni students on campus); a Graduation Celebration of Excellence (to congratulate and issue stoles); local sports games and tailgates; Veterans Nights Out and other Dawg Daze activities; and Open Houses.  We are exploring the idea of having a Convocation event at the beginning of the year to welcome student veterans and to issue challenge coins.  Additionally, communication is being improved in the form of newsletters, emails and connecting resources on and off campus to student veterans. 

Finally, Teaching and Education is an important pillar of our years 1 and 2 initiatives. The Veteran Ally Network initiative addresses educating staff and faculty on veterans-related issues, including military cultural competency, transition issues, barriers, what a student veteran is and how to work with/teach veterans in work spaces and classrooms.