California State University, Northridge’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) hosted its first Joining Forces: Veteran Ally Workshop as part of We ❤ Our Veterans Week on Nov. 7 at the University Student Union.
VRC coordinator Patrina Croisdale co-presented the workshop and said the center’s ultimate goal is to foster understanding between civilian and veteran students and build a supportive network of allies for the latter group.
“I really hope people that take this workshop gain more awareness about our student-veteran community on campus and that we create campus-wide support for our student veterans to improve our campus climate, and create a better atmosphere,” she said.
According to the VRC, 695 student veterans are currently enrolled at CSUN. Student Jimmy Guevara, United States Marine Corps veteran and VRC outreach leader, led the presentation alongside Croisdale.
Guevara, who studies psychology, emphasized the importance of humanizing perceptions of veterans and providing them with a platform to share their experiences.
“A lot of the time, our veterans feel like no one cares about them. I think the key thing is having an open dialogue, and understanding that we’re more than just a label,” he said. “These are raw stories that should be heard. It’s a way of getting the United States to understand that there’s a different battle after the military.”
Others in attendance echoed Guevara’s sentiment. Political science student Michal Mielewczyk, who served in the U.S. Army for 10 years before enrolling at CSUN in 2015, stressed that veterans can become stigmatized when there isn’t enough open communication. He also noted that workshops like the one hosted by the VRC can help alleviate the stigma.
“We’re not all crazy maniacs. We’re not all just dumb. We’re very intelligent people, and just because we go off to a corner or start cussing doesn’t mean we’re deranged or anything like that,” he said.
Mielewczyk’s words touched another topic from the workshop — the coping mechanisms veterans employ as they adjust to civilian life .
Military service strains the body and mind. According to Guevara, personnel often swear or use dark humor to help ease stress, and these behaviors will often times follow veterans after they’re discharged.
To civilians, these forms of coping may seem off-putting or be interpreted as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental disorder that’s become particularly linked to veterans. Despite this notion, the PTSD diagnosis rate among veterans sits at about 10 to 18 percent, according to a study of the VRC.
Regardless of that relatively low percentage, veterans’ struggles to readjust to a way of life that’s become foreign to some of them shouldn’t be understated, the workshop participants said.
“It’s really a combat situation when you come back,” said Mielewczyk, speaking about his post-Army experience. “It’s a really, really hard thing to adapt. It can be discouraging at times.”
Mielewczyk did credit CSUN as one of the bright spots in his adjustment process.
“I started going into the VRC last semester,” he said. “There are plenty of buddies there, and I can go in there to vent and relax. The veteran community here at CSUN is just awesome.”
Croisdale said she hopes to see the types of communication and camaraderie that have aided veterans such as Mielewczyk expand beyond the walls of the VRC.
“My goal is to spread this campus-wide and to get commitments from different departments across campus, where they’ll have their staff or faculty members take the training and create more support. We hope to spread this out and have a lot more people become veteran allies,” Croisdale said.
We ❤ Our Veterans Week will continue through Nov. 11. For a full list of events, visit the VRC’s webpage on the CSUN website.