Student Veterans of America provides a community for student veterans to find support, advice and friendship from other people of military backgrounds.
Third-year physics doctoral student Crystal Kim enlisted in the Marine Corps when she was 19 years old and spent five years as an embassy security guard before returning to school. She recounted feeling different from her peers and wanting to create a community for those. She now is President of the organization, Student Veterans of America (SVA) to find people like herself.
SVA provides a community for student veterans to find support, advice and friendship from other people of military backgrounds.
“We’re not scary. A lot of people like to see veterans as mean, ruthless, unpredictable, disturbed types of people. But we’re just here to study, get our degree and get into the real world,” Kim said. “A lot of us feel alienated. We’re maybe a little bit older or feel like we’re not the typical students. We’re classed as nontraditional students so [SVA] is really just a safe space to get together,” she continued.
Fourth-year global studies major and SVA Vice President Logan Wakefield expressed similar concerns about feeling older than his peers when he returned to school after five years as a cryptologic linguist in the Marine Corps.
“Most of us are significantly older than a lot of our peers, just kind of in a different place in life. So that’s one of the reasons why the veterans center here is so nice, because you have people of a similar age group and experience that you can interact with in a more comfortable environment,” Wakefield said.
SVA exists to help veterans navigate their college experience, according to Kim. From connecting students with the resources to succeed in their classes to guiding them through financial situations, student veterans can depend on SVA for any needs they may have.
“If there are student veterans on campus who need help, who need someone to advocate for them, for example, housing issues or financial issues, especially regarding their benefits, we can help get them connected to the right people,” Kim said.
While the group has a lot of overlapping events and services with veteran and military services, SVA is more focused on connecting students with one another and encouraging them to feel supported by each other.
“We’re the student club side, so we like to do the fun events that get veterans together, get them to know each other and also for regular UCSB students to get to know us,” Kim said.
Some of the social events hosted by SVA include barbeques, haunted house outings and game days that bring the community of both veterans and dependents together.
“Last year, there was a cornhole event that we did for veterans and dependents because a lot of the time we like to include dependents whenever possible just so they feel like they’re part of the family,” Wakefield said. “There was also a veterans barbeque that we did at the beginning of this year, sort of a meet and greet for the beginning of the year.”
As for future plans, SVA would like to expand their community outreach efforts by collaborating with other local veterans organizations and doing charity work involving veterans in need. He specifically mentioned advocacy for veterans without housing.
“I’ve been looking at the idea of possibly assisting with veterans homeless shelters … because homelessness is a really big problem in the veteran community. So being able to do something like that would be really rewarding,” Wakefield said.
Kim shared similar sentiments about veteran volunteerism.
“We also want to do volunteering and advocacy for the wider Santa Barbara community because there are veterans out there and we can do volunteer work for them such as fundraising or volunteering at the shelter,” Kim said.
Ultimately, SVA’s goal is to uplift the student veteran community and help them find support both throughout their university experience and in preparation for beyond college.
“SVA is all about providing resources to veterans in college environments because sometimes it can be kind of difficult to transition from military to going back to education, so just trying to make sure that veterans have as many resources as possible available to them,” Wakefield said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Oct. 12, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.