Freshman Stephen Kwiatkowski served in the marine corps for four years with the infantry. He was deployed to Afghanistan twice for about seven months. He came to Olivet looking for a Christian environment, a more quiet campus and one that was more focused on God.
The GlimmerGlass: Was it hard to get spiritually connective or stay spiritually active in the military?
Stephen Kwiatkowski: At sometimes it was hard to behave as a Christian when you are thrown into a world like that–it’s a complete culture shock … but on the other hand there were certain hardships that kept me in prayer with God.
GG: When you came to Olivet did you feel welcomed as a veteran?
Kwiatkowski: It’s not that I felt welcomed or not welcomed. It was more of a new culture shock for me … I was thrown into the college world, where people are straight out of high school, and I had to re-learn how to interact with them.
GG: Did the school have any veteran or adjustment programs?
Kwiatkowski: No, there was nothing for veterans really.
GG: Who or what helped you to adapt the most?
Kwiatkowski: If I needed to vent I would text somebody who I served with and vent to him. It would have been nice if there was somebody who would have guided me. Most schools have a veteran’s affairs office … and they can help you out.
GG: How was it being thrown in with Freshman?
Kwiatkowski: If this is to get a generalized view of how all veterans [react], I am more on the easygoing end. I know many people who definitely struggle. For me personally, it was definitely weird, I had to really watch what I was saying. [I also had to] make sure I wasn’t coming off as aggressive, because in the marines if you have a problem with someone you just speak your mind.
GG: Was it hard or weird to be mingling with many people who are younger than you?
Kwiatkowski: It was really strange. In the marines I got out as a corporal, so I had guys who were 18, 19, 20 years old who I was in charge of … in the marines … you aren’t supposed to fraternize with people you are in charge of, and there was definitely that weird mental gap.
GG: Would you have appreciated being integrated with the upperclassmen instead?
Kwiatkowski: Yes, I think so. I actually made a complaint about that too. All the transfer students got put up with people their age. As a veteran, I got thrown in with the Freshmanstraight out of high school, and I didn’t feel comfortable at the time.
GG: How did you get connected with other veterans on campus?
Kwiatkowski: One guy came up to me, and he noticed my memorial bracelet and asked if I was a veteran. He wanted to start a veterans group, but nothing’s really happened yet. I’ve only heard of six or seven other [veterans] on campus so far.
GG: Would you like the school to make an effort to get veterans connected?
Kwiatkowski: It’s a good thing to get in touch with other veterans, if you want to unload or vent. But, on the other hand, you really need to get out of the military mindset. They need to get used to be part of society and breaking away from the military lifestyle.
GG: Should the school devote resources to create a veterans group, V.A. office, or more specific aid in general for them?
Kwiatkowski: If there are only five veterans, would they [the school] really spend the funds to set up something for them? If they could just gauge how many people are veterans and make connection possible. I had always wished there was a veteran V.A. office at this school, because that’s offered at almost any other university … where we can mingle and study, or if you have a question with your G.I. bill (Federal scholarship), which a lot of people don’t know how to use properly.
GG: Do you feel comfortable here now?
Kwiatkowski: I have a more positive mindset about things, so I’m moving forward on a good foot. I’m more concerned with other veterans who really have a tough time adapting and changing to college life. A lot of people will go to college and lock themselves in their room all day. There is a huge issue of veteran suicide—22 a day.
–Jeremy McGrath, contributing writer
Challenges of the student veteran
Acute stress can turn into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even if a student veteran does not have PTSD, they may still experience issues such as depression, anxiety, homesickness, relationship issues, substance use problems, or even simple adjustment issues.
Veterans typically experience more change than many of their non-veteran peers. They do not have a large community of students who can relate to what the student-veteran has been through. In some cases, Traumatic Brain Injury may be a factor that could impede academic performance.
The Counseling and Health Services office offers individual therapy to address the broad range of issues listed above. They do not have a support group specific to veterans at this time because the need has not presented itself. Typically, they encourage student veterans to connect with their local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Veteran’s Affairs’ also offer some workshops and support groups, but this may involve some travel. Additionally, if Traumatic Brain Injury is suspected, they can provide referrals for testing.
Source: Dr. Lisa Vander Veer, Director of Counseling and Health Services