GI Baby II: Follow Up
In Spring 2016, $7,000 dollars of my GI Bill aid disappeared. After contacting the Emerson Veteran Affairs office, I was told the money simply hadn’t been processed yet, as GI Bill paperwork were typically handled last. However, after two more months of phone calls and emails, Emerson still did not know where the money was. In fact, I was told in May, a week after the semester ended, that the aid had been completely misfiled and both the VA Affairs and Financial Aid departments were still looking for it.
Mistakes happen, that I understand, but by the next summer, my registration was being threatened for similar reasons. Financial aid could only guesstimate that the missing funds “could be between $1,000 and $10,000 dollars,” an unknown sum I was expected to come up with within a week or two. It was soon discovered that the money was missing because the school had completely forgotten to send in paperwork to the national Veteran Affairs Department in order to authorize the distribution of my GI Bill funds for my summer courses. This situation could not be solved until the following summer before my senior year, and Emerson still neglected to send in the paperwork. The large balance left on my account now jeopardized my Summer and Fall 2018 class registration. Finally, in June 2018, the funds were approved and disbursed, putting an end to 12 months of financial stress.
This struggle with the administration is linked back to one of the greatest problems faced by Emerson students with military ties: a lack of resources. Our VA representative is also the Head of Student Success, making the Veteran and Affiliate community (even if unintentionally) a secondary priority. Despite the fact that resources are being provided at other private schools in the area, Emerson provides no clubs for us, no support groups, no safe spaces exclusively for veterans to decompress and discuss their unique experiences with one another. Even talk of adding spaces and resources have been just that: talk. Projects have fallen short and never come to fruition.
Recent Emerson Alum and Army Veteran Mike Saunders said, “There was a time when it was believed that Emerson was going to try and give the veterans their own space. It was never set in stone, but at one point it was something that was being considered…we just didn’t have the numbers.” While Saunders understands that the small number of affiliates on campus could signify a lack of need, he still believes that the incorporation of a new space is crucial for the success of even the few veterans and military dependents Emerson has: “I think Emerson should consider having a space where veterans can gather and exchange ideas and information about benefits, as well as having Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) teams come in and provide the services that veterans need to be successful in college.”
Saunders himself works for the Veteran Affairs department at another private Boston institute, where he is currently trying to bring in the same resources he has advocated for in Emerson. He notes that a big reason for a space being necessary on Emerson’s campus, in particular, is the problem with the inclusion and perception of veterans at the college.
“I have had a student—who, oddly enough, was supposed to be my mentor my first semester at Emerson—ask me if I killed anyone. I know a former marine was called a murderer and a rapist by one of his peers,” Saunders says.
This treatment of veterans and dependents at our school is unacceptable, and it is something that I’ve written about before. There are times when people within the community are being alienated, and yet Emerson refuses to allot resources to fix the issue, or to expand and entice Veteran and military dependent enrollment.
“The number one thing I hear often is that student veterans are reluctant to even consider attending a school that does not have a separate space for them,” Saunders says of his work with the VA. “The main problem is the individual schools, and whether or not they want to truly help veterans succeed. I do not think it is too much to ask of any college to give veterans a space where they can decompress, and get the help they need so they can go about their day.”
So Emerson, where do we stand?
Illustration by Nic Sugrue