Photo by Anna Meassick | SVO President Brian Coleman.
The University of Rhode Island Student Veterans Organization is a small but established club on campus, consisting primarily of students who have previously served in the military and are now pursuing their undergraduate degrees.
The SVO meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. in room 318 of the Memorial Union. At these meetings, they discuss upcoming events, community service projects, veterans affairs and more. The group’s primary focus is to advocate for veterans on campus and offer a community to all students that have service history.
The Executive Board of the SVO includes President Brian Coleman, Vice President Megan Sadler and Treasurer Marland Chang. Also at the meeting was Rachael Garcia, assistant director of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs, a new position.
“We’re used to having a certain culture and when we come to a campus with younger adults,” Chang said, “it’s hard for us to blend in.” A lot of times we feel a little out of place. We also offer a place to come in and meet some comrades.”
Members engage in friendly banter and chatter before the meeting officially begins. Things like “I would join the Coast Guard in a heartbeat” and “the best food in the military was on the submarines” were shared amongst the group.
“A lot of students are wary about approaching veterans,” Sadler said. “‘Do they have PTSD? Are they gonna freak out? Are they gonna yell at me? We’re hoping to break that bias.”
An organized agenda is projected and the majority of members sit around a large Harkness table. The agenda includes things such as checking in on members during midterm exam season, updates on the Providence WaterFire event they’ll be volunteering at and progress on renovating the Memorial Union Veteran Wall outside of the Student Senate offices.
Sadler reported to the group that she spoke with the Memorial Union staff about updating the current Veterans Wall after it passed in the Student Senate meeting last week.
The current wall “was dedicated many decades ago and has all of the wars squished into one: World War One, World War Two, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam. What we’re trying to do is make a proposal to school to get two new plaques made,” Sadler said.
The new plaques will be dedicated to URI killed in action soldiers. The first is for those that were in World Wars One and Two. The second will be for those that were in the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and current day. Sadler also mentioned that the Memorial Union staff wants to install a third plaque about the origins of the building.
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Sadler said.
Garcia also brought up the idea of priority class registration for all veterans. As of right now, only combat veterans at URI receive priority registration.
“Other colleges in the area such as CCRI and RIC already do priority registration for all veterans, so we’re kind of missing the mark here.”
The SVO dedicated much of the meeting to discuss their Veteran’s Day event, which will take place on Nov. 7 at 10:30 a.m. at the flagpole in front of the Memorial Union.
Matthew Baldwin McCoy, vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for the region will be in attendance, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) will do the Color Guard, Coleman will be speaking, and Kasim Yarn, director of the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs, will be the keynote speaker.
The group members place a lot of emphasis on the fact that anyone can join the club. “If you can’t experience [the military] yourself, the best way is to hear it from somebody else,” Chang said.
Coleman went on to share his personal experience in the Navy, saying the longest he was ever on a submarine was “57 days straight. That’s no sunlight. There’s no windows either so you can’t see out. It was interesting. I’m glad I did it.”
“For me, I always look at it though as a sense of accomplishment, having been a Veteran. I got back in one piece, accomplished something, we finished our mission, and it was this sense of doing something more than you can do as just a single person,” said Chang.
Chang hopes that in the future “the University of Rhode Island to be a top ten, top 100 military friendly school.”