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Student veterans look to reclaim Veteran Student Center conference room

Student leaders say University reallocated the organization’s space in Newcomb with no advance warning

SVA, a group of student-veterans at the University, typically holds its bi-weekly meetings in the VSC area of the Newcomb basement.
SVA, a group of student-veterans at the University, typically holds its bi-weekly meetings in the VSC area of the Newcomb basement.

UPDATE: SVA announced via its petition Sunday that Sauerwein will be vacating the conference room in the VSC. The group has kept the petition live in hopes of achieving their second demand — hiring a director of veteran services.

When leaders of the Student Veterans of America walked into Newcomb this summer, they found the conference room in the Veteran Student Center, once a home to SVA meetings and study groups, unexpectedly emptied of its military decorations. Student leaders say the University reallocated the space as a dean’s office without consulting SVA members. A change.org petition to reclaim the center has garnered over 1,850 signatures — University representatives say a solution is in the works.

SVA, a group of student veterans at the University, typically holds its bi-weekly meetings in the VSC in the Newcomb basement. A safe space for the military community created in 2021, the attached conference room previously featured flags from the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, along with a television and conference table. 

The conference room now serves as an office for David Saurwein, assistant dean of students and liaison for Posse scholars. Romeo Sarmiento, SVA co-founder and treasurer and third-year McIntire student, said that while Saurwein has acted as an ally for veterans in the past, students felt blindsided since the University never communicated with student veterans about the change — before or after the transition. 

“It didn't quite make sense to us, losing that sanctuary of a room, losing that ability to disconnect and maybe find some tranquility within that room,” Sarmiento said.

The online petition demands that the University relocate Saurwein’s office from the VSC. The other listed goal involves the establishment of an Office of Veteran Services and a position for a Director of Student Veteran Services — priorities also listed in the VSA’s 2022 Strategic Plan for Student Veterans at U.Va.

Sarmiento and other SVA leaders met Friday with Student Affairs representatives including Christopher Holstege, interim vice president and chief Student Affairs officer, and Cedrick Rucker, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of student life, to discuss their concerns. Sarmiento claims the meeting did not offer concrete solutions to the central issues of the petition.

University spokesperson Bethanie Glover wrote an email statement to The Cavalier Daily clarifying that the rest of the VSC remains open to students. The repurposed office room, one of two office spaces attached to the VSC, was designed to place Sauerwein closer to the veteran community he supports, Glover said.

“With that being said, members of the Student Affairs team are in direct coordination with representatives from the student veterans group, and individual student veterans, to discuss their concerns and reach a solution,” Glover said. “We are also investigating the current level of support provided to student veterans and working to determine where that support needs to be enhanced to ensure their success at U.Va.”

Tim Brown, former SVA president and fourth-year McIntire student, said although he feels supported as a veteran by students and professors, the lack of communication from administration reflects an ongoing issue with University support as a whole.

“The biggest part of our grievance here is just the fact that, not only was a very crucial conference room taken from us, but it was also taken without any heads up or consultation, whatsoever, and we had to find out by going to visit the space,” Brown said.

Brown said Student Affairs representatives claimed Robyn Hadley, former dean of students and vice president of student affairs, was responsible for the reallocation decision. Hadley left the University last month, a timeline Brown sees as “convenient” for shifting blame.

Despite a perceived lack of direction after Friday’s meeting with Student Affairs, Sarmiento confirmed that VSA will continue demanding both recovery of their space and extended structural support for the veteran community.

“Because we plan to push forward, we're prepared to do what it takes to get the adequate support for our veterans,” Sarmiento said. “As of now, [the University’s] words are that they want to continue the conversation but we want to see actions and results.”

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