In fall of 2009, as a student in the first cohort of CSULB’s Ed.D. in educational leadership, I was contemplating dissertation projects. That year, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill was passed and it became clear that hundreds of thousands of veterans would be pursuing college degrees in the coming years. I became concerned about how veterans would be welcomed on college campuses. In the 1960s and ’70s, higher education’s relationship with the military and veterans had been sometimes less than cordial. More recently, the country’s attitude to veterans has been respectful and higher education has been welcoming to vets. Unfortunately, those who work in higher education are typically exposed to the military only through the news media and movies, whose depictions of military service sometimes miss the mark. It seemed important to fill the knowledge gap, and thus a dissertation project was born.
I connected with Pat O’Rourke, then director of CSULB’s Veterans Affairs Services, and Michael Barraza, then a psychologist in CSULB’s Counseling and Psychological Services, both veterans of the U.S. Army. I told them I wanted to create a veterans’ awareness program modeled after the LGBT Safe Zone Ally programs found on college campuses nationwide. Simply put, the program educates people who don’t belong to an underrepresented group about people who do belong to the group, then asks them to be allies. Since only about one percent of the U.S. population is currently serving in the armed forces, it was a safe bet that most people on campus didn’t know much about the military. We immediately began developing what would soon be called VET NET Ally.
The program resulting from our joint efforts is a four-hour seminar featuring presentations, videos and group activities to inform participants why veterans choose military service, what happens when they join, what military culture is like and what happens when vets leave the service and transition back to civilian life. At each seminar, a panel of CSULB student veterans shares about their experiences in the service and as students. Participants receive a VET NET Ally decal to display in their offices to show their support of veterans on campus.
Since the first seminar in 2010, more than 400 CSULB faculty, staff and students have become VET NET allies. We’ve presented at more than a dozen other colleges and universities in California, some of which have adopted the program and now present it independently on their campuses. As word has gotten out about VET NET Ally, I’ve received inquiries from colleges and universities across the country about our program and questions on how they can adopt our program or create their own. While it’s been gratifying to know that others appreciate what we’ve done here at The Beach, when I see VET NET Ally decals around campus, I’m pleased to know that my experience as a doctoral student helped create a welcoming environment for the student-veterans we serve. As a veteran and a CSULB grad, it doesn’t get much better than that.