Student veterans more than a spirit group

Stephen Ollar

A recent article in the Texan concerning the Student Veteran Association’s efforts to obtain non-classification group seating for UT football games missed the mark.

This past summer when the SVA established a group to register for stadium seating, a rift developed between our members. We are unique among student organizations in that our average member is a decade older than members of other organizations. The upperclassmen of our organization who had pooled for tickets in the past were not looking forward to sitting among the throngs of 18- and-19-year-old freshmen students again — anyone who has sat at the top of the stadium before can probably understand their discontent. Some even started their own seating group and discouraged freshmen and sophomore veterans from joining. This move angered our entering veterans, and they were less inclined to participate in our organization.

The goal of the SVA is to create a community that supports student veterans in their transition from active duty to civilian life. Many veterans face depression and loneliness while in college because they are surrounded by so many students that do not share their same personal experiences. The accomplishment of this goal hinges on the interaction and socialization of those members who have already successfully made the transition into society with those entering veterans who have not. The biggest opportunity for new and old student veterans to mix is SVA tailgating, which has been a tradition for seven years and usually draws more than 80 veterans. The rift that had developed threatened to disrupt this valuable social opportunity.

SVA vice president Marc Hamlin and I tried to resolve this issue by requesting from UT’s athletics department the special seating normally reserved for spirit groups, where classification has no bearing on seating assignments. At no point was the SVA trying to acquire choice seating for veterans, nor were we trying to avoid our fellow students. We simply wanted to pool for tickets as a group without having to worry that one freshman veteran would relegate every other veteran to the back of the stadium. Considering the sacrifice that student veterans have made for this country and the daily challenges they face, we did not believe this was asking much from the athletics department.Over the summer, we contacted anyone and everyone connected to the athletics department and the stadium that might be able to help our cause. The responses fell into three categories: either we received no reply, were passed along to someone else or were told that if they did it for us, they would have to do it for everyone else too. It is this last response that really hits to the core of what is wrong with how this University looks at student veterans’ issues. It has continually marginalized student veterans by categorizing us as just one of many student groups. As a demographic, veterans face the highest rates of divorce, depression, unemployment, homelessness and suicide in this nation. Ignorance of these facts has continually led this University to fall short in meeting the needs of student veterans. UT must begin to see the larger picture of veterans’ needs if it wishes to adequately give back to those who served so many.

This past weekend I attended the Veterans Day game at which UT has honored Texas veterans every year. I watched with chagrin as the members of one of the spirit groups with special seating status danced around in monkey suits and other getups for all to see on the scoreboard. But at no time could cameras be pointed at the 650 student veterans that occupied the stadium, because only a handful of us were actually sitting together. While the other spirit groups use the perks of special seating to entertain, we would use it to support veterans.

Ollar is an economics senior from Midlothian, Texas and the president of the UT Student Veterans Association.