By Dave Stancliff
Students nervously milled around outside the classroom.
Some were in shock, as police and other emergency personnel hurried into the building.
It was 1977, and I was a journalism student at Fullerton Community College. A student in that classroom shot himself in front of a horrified English class. Later, I found out that he was a Vietnam veteran, just like me. I didn’t know him, which was kinda odd, as there weren’t many other Vietnam veterans on campus that year. I never found out why he did that, but I had my suspicions. Being a Vietnam veteran in 1977 meant that most civilians didn’t trust you. I can recall applying for jobs and not putting down I was a veteran on the application because of earlier experiences where it was evident I was being discriminated against.
There were very few veteran programs at most colleges back then. Those veterans who did try going back to school faced hostile student bodies. We didn’t have people advocating for us. I never did get use to being called names, but realized that I was such a minority at school that no one would back me if I argued with those cretins who seemed out to “make their bones” by harassing a Vietnam veteran.
What veterans like myself faced was nothing short of “hate speech.” Because we weren’t organized then we either suffered the indignities quietly, or got kicked off campus for “causing trouble.” I saw a couple of Vietnam veterans pushed to the brink and what happened after they struck back verbally and physically.
A year later, after getting my AA in Journalism, I was attending HSU which offered a new program called, Veterans Upward Bound, that helped student veterans with their transition to civilian life. I became the editor of a publication called “The Veterans Gazette,” and spent a lot of time talking to student veterans.
The contempt for veterans at HSU wasn’t as overt as down south, but it was still there. As a group, we would talk about it and share our daily campus experiences. Since those days, there has been a lot of improvement on how veterans are treated at colleges. I like to point out that HSU has a Student Veterans Association and a great new program called, Veterans Enrollment and Transition Services (Y.E.S).
However, I would also like to point out that veterans still have to deal with “hate speech” on college campuses today. That includes HSU. Anyone who read student veteran Jennifer Fusaro’s article on Nov. 5th in The Lumberjack (the student newspaper) knows that’s true. Sadly, some things haven’t changed.
What veterans suffer is no different than when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, or political affiliation.
Historically, veterans going back to college weren’t treated badly by other students. That dynamic changed when we entered Vietnam and college campuses became breeding grounds for dissidents and organized protests against that unpopular war.
Today’s military is an all-volunteer force and you don’t see colleges making news with big protests against the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. So why do veteran students still get harassed? That’s a tough question to answer. From my experiences, it appears people tend to associate the veteran with the administration.
Instead of looking at the veteran as someone who was doing their job, detractors de-humanize individuals and see them as symbols of a government they don’t believe in, thus fair game to pick on. This is patently unfair, and a stupid assumption to make.
There’s a lot of reasons why people go into the military today. In this failing economy joining the military means employment. There are those who go in because they believe in the war, or are just seeking adventures, but no one has the right to hold that against them.
The times are changing and this country is making progress towards respecting other people’s rights. Our new Commander in Chief is part African-American and Caucasian.
In this spirit of change, there’s at least one state lawmaker, Utah Republican Rep. Eric Hutchings, who says he’s going to sponsor a hate crime bill that would extend group protection to uniformed service members, according to an Associated Press report on Nov.16th.
I would like to see Senator Mike Thompson sponsor a similar bill here in California and not just limit it to uniformed service members, but to all those veterans who are out of the service and in the civilian population.
As It Stands, going back to school is a hard enough transition for veterans to adapt to without having to deal with prejudicial pinheads!