The “I’m a Veteran” campaign, an effort to raise awareness of the culture of veteran students on campus, officially started Wednesday.
The campaign, organized by the Student Veteran Services (SVS) at the Office of the Dean of Students, leads up to Veterans Day on Nov. 11, when the SVS will hold a campus-wide conversation over donuts and coffee to encourage veteran and non-veteran student interaction. Jeremiah Gunderson, director of the SVS, said the campaign aims to break barriers and foster understanding between veteran and non-veteran students.
“We’re trying to answer a few simple questions, [such as] ‘What is a veteran?’” Gunderson said. “We also want to show that the veteran experience is not the end of their story. We’re building a community, not a division, among the veterans and the general students population.”
Gunderson said 533 out of around 50,000 students are using veteran benefits on campus this fall. Average ages for incoming non-veteran students are between 18-23 years old, while the average ages for veteran students are between 25-30 years old. Many of the veteran students are married and have children. The combination of these differences can feel isolating to veteran students, Gunderson said.
28-year-old Dan Hamilton, an international relations and global studies and Middle Eastern studies junior, said he found his sense of community through the SVS.
“We want to bridge the gap between veterans and [non-veterans],” Hamilton, who serves as president of Student Veteran Association, said. “[It’s like saying,] ‘Hey, I’m a veteran, but I’m also a bunch of different things too. This is what I’m majoring in; this is what I’m passionate about; this is where I’m from; I’m a Longhorn and we have a lot of [similarities].’”
After graduating next year, Hamilton said he wants to pursue a graduate program in international relations. He said he enjoys current events and foreign affairs such as America’s role in the world and the ways in which America uses its power.
“My dream job, if I could run for office, would be a senator from Texas,” Hamilton said.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Allison Calder, whose father is an Air Force veteran and whose significant other is serving in the Navy, said people sometimes fail to recognize veterans for their lives outside of service.
“They are students, siblings, spouses, leaders and workers in addition to veterans,” Calder said. “They still have interests outside of the military and can – and probably want to – have conversations that have nothing to do with their service.”