There are more than 1,200 student veterans at UMass Lowell.
That number will only grow. Experts say the number of U.S. veterans will continue to increase until it peaks in 2036. Here in Massachusetts, more than 30,000 Commonwealth residents had returned home from active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
Supporting those veterans was the focus of the third annual Diversity in Motion forum, held on Nov. 10 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. Hosted by the University’s Equal Opportunity and Outreach office, the event drew about 75 attendees from local businesses, employment agencies and education - all of whom were interested in learning about how to better support veterans as they return to civilian life.
“Universities have a particular responsibility, it seems to me,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan, in welcoming guests. “It’s not enough to just open our doors. … We have to have to be a source of information and support to help veterans transition from soldiers to students.”
Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, shared insights on how to best do that ߝ explaining how the Guard has been caring for vets since the Revolutionary War.
Diversity: A ‘National Security Issue’
Carter also discussed the importance of diversity in general: “One of my highest priorities is diversity and inclusiveness in our ranks,” he said. “Diversity and inclusiveness is more than a personal issue or even a fairness issue. It is a national security issue.”
The widespread diversity of people, languages and cultures gives the United States a unique advantage in its dealings around the world, he argued: “Our diversity of backgrounds helps advance our goals,” he said, and shows citizens of other countries that “the concept of many cultures working together is a successful strategy.”
Just as in larger society, there are many distinct demographic groups of veterans with distinct needs. A panel of experts followed Carter with a discussion on how to address the needs of some of those diverse groups: women vets, Vietnam-era vets and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Understanding and addressing the specific needs of each group will only yield positive results for all, says Equal Opportunity and Outreach Director Oneida Blagg.
“Diversity can be force multiplier, but if you don’t manage it effectively, it can work against you,” she says.
New Initiatives on Campus
Attempting to understand veterans at UMass Lowell has resulted into two new initiatives:
- A standing committee on Veterans Affairs to address the issues and concerns of veterans enrolled or working at UMass Lowell; and
- The commitment of space to create a combined Veterans’ Benefit Office and Drop-in Center, with increased staffing, so that student veterans can find the resources they need and the support of other veterans on campus. The space will be available by Fall 2011.
“Our veterans have served our country without question or hesitation,” said Meehan. “In return, they deserve nothing less than the respect and services they have earned.”