Welcoming veterans to the College

Recently, the College decided to modify its policies on veteran admissions and to more actively recruit veterans. We at the Record fully support this decision. While the College does not actively prevent veterans from attending, it does not provide any online information for veterans who are prospective students or provide information about resources that would be available to veterans should they attend. This new initiative will provide more information about the College to veterans who wish to apply. The College will remove a $5000 cap on the financial aid that veterans can receive from the College through the Yellow Ribbon Program. While this cap was originally intended to prevent veterans from receiving too much financial aid, it is a confusing barrier as it misleadingly implies that the College gives less aid than it actually does.

We believe that recruiting veterans to the College would strengthen our community. Veterans have a unique perspective that is not currently represented on campus. If veterans were to add their experiences to the community both inside and outside the classroom, the College would benefit. Having the additional viewpoints of non-traditional students would help to push students outside their comfort zones – a valuable goal of a liberal arts education. Furthermore, the College offers an elite education that veterans would benefit from having access to.

If the administration really intends to recruit veterans, it will have to ensure that the College has all of the resources necessary to support non-traditional students. This might involve hiring a counselor at Psychological Services experienced in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. We also encourage the College to create a transitional program for non-traditional students that provides support beyond orientation and First Days. We also strongly believe that the College cannot begin by admitting just one or two veterans per class year. The College might be a challenging space for veterans. Veterans attending the College would need a strong support network, and part of that support network would be fellow veterans. To that end, we think it’s very important that the College should begin this new initiative by admitting about five veterans per class year.

One thing we think the College should be aware of is that admitting veterans would require a meaningful examination of campus culture. Why are veterans not drawn to Williams in the first place, for example? How would first-year veterans fit into traditional Williams institutions like the entry system? In order to make the College more appealing to veterans, we need to assess what the College could do to make itself a more welcoming environment. We believe this could fit into a broader examination of how the College could better recruit and support other kinds of non-traditional students.

This initiative, with these concerns in mind, could be made easier if contextualized within the the Posse Foundation’s Veteran Program, which partners with colleges and universities to help them recruit veterans. While the Veteran Program is still a pilot program and is only currently partnering with Vassar, we at the Record believe that the College shares Posse’s goals and could benefit from participating in the organization. The College partners with organizations like QuestBridge to both recruit low-income students and support them once they are at the College. Joining the Posse Veteran Program would be a similar initiative. Posse would work as an information network for the College and would provide support for the College’s admissions counselors as they work to recruit veterans. We believe that Posse could provide significant help in training our admissions counselors to identify high-achieving qualified veterans and reach out to them. On the other side of the coin, Posse could help provide support and resources to veterans once they attend the College. Because we don’t have resources for veterans at present, having a support structure like Posse would be helpful in determining how to build those resources.

One part of the Posse pilot program that we hesitate to approve of is the requirement that veterans attend the College in a group of 10 students. We realize that in a class of 550 students at the College, admitting 10 veterans is a substantial percentage of that group. However, if the College is truly committed to having veterans attend and be successful here, they will require the support of fellow veterans, and the College could work with Posse to find the appropriate size community for this campus.

We realize there will be costs to the College from recruiting and supporting veterans, both financial and social. However, we feel that having the unique perspective of veterans at the College is worth that cost. Given that many of our peer institutions have found a way to incorporate veterans into their institutions, we should be able to find a workable way to do so as well.

The College has always enjoyed a rich history of students in the military. We think that veterans who attend the College in the future will make worthy contributions to that history.

Comments (17)

  1. A welcome editorial, especially in noting the plausible existence of a genius loci at Williams that fosters a bias against veterans. And on that point, why should veterans be limited to an arbitrary number? Are minorities and women so limited? Both groups are actively recruited, and neither is capped. This proposed limit is evidence, at least in the College newspaper, of the very bias the paper itself ponders. This vet hopes the College itself will act more reasonably.

    Schwab ’63 (veteran)

  2. I applaud the Editorial Board position and comprehensive story on the Veterans situation at Williams in today’s Williams Record.

    As a Vietnam Vet and a member of this year’s 50th Reunion class, I have been deeply concerned about the existing situation and other members of my reunion class share this concern.

    I am hoping that the positive actions described in the Record re: information for veterans on the Williams website and the removal of the $5,000 Yellow Ribbon cap will happen sooner rather than later. Amherst and Wesleyan are way ahead of us on both and have been for some time.

    Phil Kinnicutt, ’63
    LTjg, SC, USNR, Ret.
    Kailua, HI

  3. Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
    And bought him a Commission;
    And then he went to Canada
    To fight for the Nation;
    But when Ephraim he came home
    He proved an arrant Coward,
    He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
    For fear of being devour’d.

  4. http://alexzola.com/?p=1718

    Above is a link to the full Veteran Day speech I wrote and gave last year in Williamstown. It includes a reference to the lack of yellow ribbon at Williams. Thanks for bringing this issue back to the front after the op ed from Wick Sloan last month. See you guys around town, and congratulations to this years graduating class.

    My dad was class of 1960. I live in Williamstown and currently attend MCLA.

    “As WW2, Korea, and Vietnam Veterans pass with time, and the power of veterans as a voting block and influence dwindles, it is important that our support for veterans is solid. We can rest assured, our active duty veterans are following the footsteps of WW2 doctrine, when our greatest generation learned what a small place the world can be, and what will happen if we stop paying attention. We truly miss this greatest generation as they pass. Their wisdom and pragmatism brought us to the safe place we are today. The common denominator of service to country allowed them to work across political party lines to accomplish the will of the people. As this block of veterans commanded respect through their actions so should we. It is important that my and future generation maintain vigilance. We cannot allow service to be relegated to the niceties of public relations statements and political sound bites. We must ensure that memorials remain visible at places like the foot of Spring Street, that our veterans’ halls are active and productive, that elite colleges adopt yellow ribbon policies, and that the nation does not forget what it asks of itself. We must always resist the temptation to relegate those that have served for our causes to the fringes of our fabric, especially if it is because we are embarrassed and second guessing our own nation’s goals and actions. This is why we have such memorials and a Veterans Day – to never forget what we have done as a country, to reflect as a nation and respect those who have served. Our Veterans are not victims. They are humanitarian warriors and peacekeepers who served as a projection of our values. Our unity demands that we act with respect for each other and those who have served regardless of political affiliation and social strata. We must always remember that we order some among us who volunteer to risk their lives, to fight and kill in war, in support of our nation’s noble ideals.”

  5. In complete agreement with Mr. Schwab.

  6. This is indeed welcome news. I applaud the College for finally moving ahead on this issue. I also applaud the Record editorial board for taking a strong stand in support and for highlighting this important news to the College community.

    Follow-through, of course, is what’s needed next. Not just from the Administration — in the ways pointed out by the Record– but from students and faculty as well. They’ll need to reach out to veterans who do enroll, to engage them and welcome them as part of the community. That won’t be easy for either side. I look back, with some embarrassment, to my own non-relationship with a class and housemate of mine in the mid-70’s who was a Vietnam vet. He was a bit withdrawn, and kept largely to himself. I knew, or at least could imagine why that might be, but I never made the effort to get to know him or invite him to join in anything as simple as sitting together and chatting in the Dining Hall. I hope our current crop of students will do better.

  7. For those interested in what an effective outreach looks like on paper and in practice here is a link to MCLA’s page. You’ll notice that the page displays multiple points of contact and continued recommendations for face to face advocacy.

    http://www.mcla.edu/Student_Life/studentdevelopment/veteraninformation/

    I have to say, that when I got to MCLA the Veterans Affairs Administration was backlogged and slow in paying my bill until the system caught up to me. I started college and for about 2 months the school was never paid a dime. While it made me kind of nervous, that was not at all so for the school financial office. They knew what they were doing and never broke a sweat. There are over 20 of us on studying at MCLA now, and many members of the guard and reserve as well.

  8. I also, applaud, and second that a little introspection is in order.

    Ken Thomas ’93

  9. Given Williams’ harsh grading policies many students (some of them Vals and Sals at their High School) end up with terrible grades and even failing classes. One thing to ponder is whether Williams is going to hold all students to the same standards, and what could happen with recruited Veterans if it does. Would Williams be honest with itself and let prospective Veterans know that some majors are likely to be out of reach to them unless they are even more qualified than a significant fraction of current Williams students, who are already being weeded out of some Williams majors?

  10. Concerned- There is no special “different” aptitude for veterans. You should not change the requirement any more than you might for a person who has other life experiences you are targeting for admissions, like say, an athlete. There are plenty qualified individuals who happen to be veterans that attend places like Williams now. What is different is the age and experience of this group. This group is going to include people in their 30’s and 40’s. People who have traveled the globe and managed large amounts of human resources and money. The age demographic is different. The experience is different. These are older people with more experience. Some of them will have life experiences and ability that challenge even the most capable professors thoughts on history or social sciences.

    Veterans are screened for military related disabilities by the Veterans Administration when they leave the service. You do not need to provide any special services for Veterans, other than outreach and support getting earned benefits if required. There are VA hospitals in Albany, Bennington, etc etc. Most of these men and women are not going to want to live in a dorm, or hang out at the keg party. Many of them will be married with children.

    What Williams will have to provide if the school really wants to attract this group is a much better acceptance of older, non traditional students. The requirement to live on campus should be the first thing lifted, for example. Remember, these people have had full time employment for four years at least in most cases. They are going to own cars. They are going to receive a stipend from the VA for school (1500 dollars a month) on top of tuition. Some may be receiving retirement pay and other benefits.

  11. I understand, Howard.

    When I initially thought about this issue, History, Social Sciences (minus Econ), Leadership, and some Humanities majors seemed doable. I am not so sure about other majors such as Math, Econ, Chemistry, and Physics. Heck, those majors seem to be out of reach even to some of the current Williams students. This despite the fact that Williams state in its website that it admits talented and extraordinary students (check, for instance the Student Profile in the Admissions website).

    My view is that schools should support the students that they admit. Others seem to share this view (see, for instance, Sarah Butrymowicz, “Can universities keep the minority students they woo?” The Hechinger Report, February 23, 2011; and Staff “Educational experts agree that ‘Weed Out’ Classes Are Killing STEM Achievement” USNews, April 19, 2012 ). However, I happen to believe that Williams is not the type of institution that supports students that may desire to major in a subject for which they do not start well. In fact, Williams seem to be contributing to some of the problems discussed in the two articles above by having weed-out courses and harsh grading policies that discourage students from even trying.

    By contrasting Williams with some of its LAC peers, it seems that other schools are doing a better job at supporting students who may face some academic challenges while in the program. Amherst, for instance, comes to mind as a more accommodating place than Williams is (perhaps because of Anthony Marx’s pioneer work while he was there).

    My concern with the new initiative to recruit Veterans is that unless Williams reevaluates and modifies not only its current student support systems, but also its grading and course weed-out practices, Veterans may be “forced” to go to majors such as those you listed in your post. The same way some of the current “talented” and “extraordinary” Williams students are already being “forced” to do.

  12. Concerned- I think it is a mistake to put any group in a box, especially veterans. All shapes, sizes, ethnicity and ability. For example, a nuclear propulsion technician from the navy could forgo a 6 figure job right out of the service to change direction in physics. My point is that there is a lot of ability in our armed forces. These guys are smart with tech in many cases… linguists, cryptography, the list is endless really. Nor do I think it is a good idea to belittle the relevance of history and social sciences and experience in that realm… which with our current power projections that involve direct contact with foreign nationals and understanding complex social dynamics- is a given for just about any man or woman who has spent years on the ground in this current global conflict.

    For my part, the men and women it was an honor for me to serve with in over 35 nations over the course of 22 years of service were very capable people. Some of them could no doubt excel at Williams. The key is that the college needs to understand this prior to running off half cocked… but also that the college is way behind the power curve on this issue. The current record Williams has with veterans comes with significant risks, even if the school wants to be absolutely cold blooded and calculating about it… one wrong national media organization that took Wick Sloan’s numbers and made a media spectacle out of it could do harm, and rightfully so in my opinion.

    You cannot have it both ways. We live in a good country that provides a ton of aid and comfort throughout the globe, and much of that comes from our projections that use the members of “our” armed forces. “We” can and will continue to be wrong at times- but that does not mean you deny an entire generation at war the opportunity to attend the top raked school in the United States. You guys are wrong on this in my opinion. My dad was class of 1960 and I was raised in this town. You cannot have a number of zero and not have a problem. The men and women it was an honor for me to serve with deserve better. We are talking about a million capable men and women who have graduated high school, stayed out of trouble, and served this country.

    and of course… the current record is not in keeping with the creation and historical relevance of the college. Maybe Williams is just too cool for school when it comes to todays veterans… which is just a sad thing to even have to state given that the school was founded as a free school for locals by a land grant from a Colonel.

  13. Howard:

    It seems we are misreading each other. We are on the same side. It is very desirable to give an opportunity for Veterans to earn a Williams education.

    If an admitted Veteran is super smart and is already an accomplished linguist or cryptographer, etc. then there is nothing to be discussed. Williams current academic environment will not hold back this student. No big issue here.

    The problem is with the students who have potential, but are not academically accomplished yet. I sustain my view that, for this type of student, Williams still needs to work a lot to make the college and all departments/majors in the college a more welcoming place that enables students to succeed in the areas/majors they dream to pursue.

    The point that we may disagree is that I do believe that the typical Veteran will indeed face academic difficulties at Williams college, in particular if the student had her eyes set in some of the majors that currently adopt a weed out mentality.

    Other colleges, such as Amherst, do a better job supporting non-traditional students after admission than Williams do. This is not an argument for denying Veterans and other non-traditional students the opportunity to attend Williams. This is an argument for Williams to go to work and remake itself as a more welcoming and supportive academic environment. Simply admitting Veterans without making academics more inclusive is not a good idea, because it is likely to end up restricting many of the admitted Veterans to a subset of majors/academic fields. I dare to say that the Williams’ current academic environment and practices may even lead quite a few of them to struggling grades, academic probation, and perhaps even college drop out.

  14. Concerned- No problem…. but I want you to think “outside of the bubble” for a second. I want you to realize that the annual budget for students that are as bright as you would like to recruit for Williams is larger than Williams’ entire endowment. The resources are pretty much unlimited if they are that smart in hard science and hold the security clearances reqiuired for science in the US military. Yes, you got that right, believe it or not, the student you are attempting to get into a hard science program at Williams from the armed forces of the United States can and indeed does go to another place that spends over 2 billion a year on his or her research. If you do not understand that, then you simply do not understand the US government. There is a very good reason that the best scientific young minds who are just leaving the United States Armed Forces will never attend Williams. They are, and have been for the ages, at places like MIT or Cal Tech, for example. And yes, Williams would hold back such a student. That is a fact. Williams is not a science school. You are just never going to compete for that demographic of student. Not with the reality of hard science and what such a young patriotic mind can and is used for. Sorry.

  15. Apologies to all for the obnoxious tone of my last rant… but many times Willliams feels as though it is a place that makes much more of itself than it should. Pretense matters. I’d like to remind everyone “here” that the DoD has an operating budget of over 500 billion dollars a year… something to think about when realizing the opportunities that would be presented to those in the service that have the brains for Williams.

    The new Williams site for Veterans admissions still discourages veterans from applying. There are a number of reasons this site is problematic and full of pitfalls that will discourage veterans. For example, if you have over 2 years of college credit you cannot go as a transfer, yet the school pushes veterans to take classes from other colleges to get in after they return from service. That is problematic because #1) Why would a person of that age start part time somewhere else. You have to be 100% enrolled to receive the GI Bill. #2) If a veteran does indeed do school full time in the interim then they will most likely have over 2 years of credit after they receive credit for military training and education.

    “For us to consider your application, we need transcripts for all of your secondary and post-secondary academic work, including any coursework you may have completed during service. We take a holistic approach to the admission process, and will evaluate each application—including these transcripts—in context, taking into account any time that may have elapsed since enrollment.

    We understand that military service can result in gaps in educational enrollment. If service has taken you away from academic work for more than two years, we recommend that you enroll in challenging college level courses prior to submitting a formal application. Military service builds capacities in men and women that would enrich any institution, but Williams also represents a highly rigorous academic environment. Successful completion of post-secondary course work will provide us with the most recent picture of your academic abilities and the best evidence of your potential for academic success.”

    The site still does not have the very simple statement most schools have for veterans. Williams is not 100% yellow ribbon. How that works is that in MA the Veterans Administration will pay the amount of the most expensive state school, which is about 17,500. Williams would then have to make up half the difference in full cost and the Veterans Administration will increase the stipend to cover the other half of the difference. Without this simple pledge… it is going to be hard to compete with places like Dartmouth, Harvard, Amherst etc who have full yellow ribbon programs. I encourage Williams to gain a better understanding of veterans and the GI bill.

  16. Williamstown is blessed with a very active American Legion Post (#152). Ironically, the Post is currently headquartered on Williams College property due to the sale of the Legion building on Spring st. to the College and a transitional lease set to expire in 14 months.
    Post 152 currently provides Military honors at funerals for local veterans on average of 1 funeral per week. As incoming Veterans Service Officer for Post 152, I can assure you, Legion membership (which includes more then a few alumni) would be more then happy to expend equal or perhaps even greater energy assisting the college with Veterans services as we do burying our comrades.

  17. Ok, it is now a school year after these series of articles and well over a decade into a global war with zero vets attending Williams … Has there been any luck this year giving vets the simple considerations and low amount of financial aid required so that we can attend, or are the doors still closed to this generation at war?

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