The Office of the Dean of Students hosted a reception Thursday to celebrate the grand opening of the Veteran Student Center. The center is meant to be a space for student veterans and active-duty ROTC students. It is located in the former home of the LGBTQ Center on the lower level of Newcomb, before the LGBTQ Center was relocated to the third floor of Newcomb last year.
The reception began with a presentation from the ROTC Color Guard followed by the national anthem. Assistant Dean of Students David Sauerwein began the reception by thanking the many individuals and groups that made the opening of the center possible.
Sauerwein thanked former University President Teresa Sullivan for signing a commitment to the veterans — which included creating this space for them — and the Jefferson Trust for helping fund the new center.
“I wanted to encourage my civilian colleagues with us today to consider what you might do to support veterans at the college and in our community,” Sauerwein said. “I would ask that we all consider beyond the kind words that we take action. That is, after all, what veterans have done for all of us.”
University President Jim Ryan also gave remarks at the reception and highlighted the importance of having a veterans center at the University.
“First and foremost, this should be a place where veterans can share stories — maybe stories that are hard to share elsewhere — and a place where you can both build community and strengthen the community that you already have, and a place where I hope you'll feel even more at home,” Ryan said.
Ryan added he hopes this new center will serve as a “home away from home away from home” for the many veteran students at the University. He also announced the University’s goal to enroll more veterans in the future as they “embody what this University aspires to be.”
“For those of you who may not always feel at home at U.Va. because I know the culture of the military is different from the culture of higher education, please know that you all belong here, and you are all welcome here,” Ryan said. “It doesn't matter where you are from, it doesn't matter how long you serve, it doesn't matter whether you're the first generation in your family to attend college, you absolutely belong here.”
Student Veterans of America president Timothy Brown, a U.S. Navy veteran and a second-year College student, said the center would help bring veterans at the University together to help “realize their greatest potential.”
“What I've discovered is that a veteran at U.Va. is not one single thing,” Brown said. “As I look around we have a small community, but we have a multitude of experiences and backgrounds, and I value this tremendously, and I believe the founding of the Veteran Students Center says that U.Va. values this as well.”
The University has about 50 undergraduate student veterans, while 5 percent of the graduate student population are veterans, Brown said. The University also partners with the Posse Foundation to bring around 10 undergraduate veterans to the University each year.
Several veteran students attended the event in support of the new center. As a part of the decoration inside the center, an American flag which was flown over a base in Afghanistan was donated.
Alan Macias, Navy veteran and first-year College student, pointed out that he found it odd when he came to the University and there was no veteran center in place.
“I attended a college before this, and we had like a whole veterans center,” Macias said. “So to come into U.Va. and not have that right away, was a little strange.”
Last year, the University opened the Latinx Student Center to serve as a safe space for Latinx and Hispanic students and an Interfaith Student Center for students of diverse backgrounds to practice their own faith and learn about others’ beliefs. The University also hosts a Multicultural Student Center to support students from underrepresented and marginalized communities and an LGBTQ center for allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Kyle Deven, Marine Corps veteran and first-year College student, agreed it is useful for veterans to have their own center.
“I think it's good for us to have our own space … a lot of us, when we come to campus, are not traditional students so we need that sense of brotherhood and community,” Deven said.
Army veteran and first-year College student Marquis Rice added that he was very grateful that the center was being opened.
“I truly believe it's one step for U.Va., but one giant leap for veterans everywhere, is to navigate where's the central location where we could get all the information and actually speak to someone who has actually been through the process of coming to [Virginia], and I was super grateful that it's finally being brought to fruition,” Rice said.
The final speaker at the reception was Asst Commerce Prof. Jeffrey Lovelace, an Army veteran who also was a part of the effort to open this space for veterans at the University. Lovelace underscored the importance of having a place for veterans in the University community.
“My sincere hope is that the establishment of the VSC communicates to the current and future student veterans, that we want you to hear that you belong here, and that if you come to U.Va., you're going to have a home that helps you find success in pursuing the goals that you have for the next chapter of your life,” Lovelace said.